A Community in Search of Itself: A Case History of Cairo, Illinois

By Herman R. Lantz | Go to book overview

3
River transshipment and railroads

The economic history of Cairo has several dimensions. The first orientation was one based on river trade and transshipment. A second was an economy based on a combination of river trade and railroads. A third economy was the development of a liquor-vice complex. A fourth economic development was the building of a service center for the surrounding area. Throughout the history of the community there were efforts to revive one or more of these economic developments whenever they seemed to fail. I should like to deal with each of these and with their special problems in the chapters that follow.


River trade and transshipment

Prior to 1856, before the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad, the economy rested on a limited and tenuous base dependent on river traffic. What business Cairo had was largely conducted on wharf boats. Some of the owners were river peddlers going from place to place; others had relatively fixed stations. During this early period river traffic was sometimes extensive. In a three-month period ending June 29, 1847, 847 boats stopped at Cairo.1 Nevertheless, traffic was not dependable since many boats bypassed Cairo when passenger stops were not necessary. They also failed to stop when ice, low water, and epidemics prevented them from doing so. During the cold winter months and the drought periods of the summer, river traffic almost came to a halt. Moreover, steamboat disasters were not uncommon during this period.2

Prior to the sale of property in 1853, population growth

-20-

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