Cairo, Illinois

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Cairo (pronounced /ˈkɛəroʊ/, KAIR-oh[1] ) is a city in Alexander County, Illinois in the United States. The population was 3,632 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Alexander County. Cairo is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and is the southernmost town in the state of Illinois. The rivers converge at what is the southernmost point in Illinois at Fort Defiance State Park, an American Civil War fort that was commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant, making Cairo the only city in Illinois completely surrounded by levees.

It is part of the Cape GirardeauJackson, MO-IL Metropolitan Statistical Area. Several blocks in the town comprise the Cairo Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The Old Customhouse is also on the NRHP.



Cairo was founded by the Cairo City & Canal Company in 1837, and incorporated as a city in 1858. For fifteen years, the town grew slowly, but the sale of lots (commencing in 1853) and the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad attracted settlers. By 1860, the population exceeded 2,000.

It was an important steamboat port in the 19th century, with so much river traffic that the government located customs officials there. The United States Customs House (called the Old Customhouse) was designed by Alfred B. Mullet, the Supervising Architect during Reconstruction. One of only seven of his Victorian structures remaining in the nation, the building has been converted into a museum. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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