The early years
Cairo was not a typical American community developed by farmers and shopkeepers with a common interest. The juncture of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers was always regrarded as of great importance geographically, commercially, and militarily. From the very first the enterprise in Cairo called for heavy capital investment. The site was so low that inundation was a problem and protection a necessity.1 The efforts of a few pioneers would hardly have been sufficient. Only a large corporate effort could meet the financial requirements. The emergence of corporate control had a profound effect on the community which was to be dominated by absentee interests from 1818 until after the Civil War.
Speculators were impressed with the fact that Cairo lay at the head of large steamboat navigation, usable in summer and winter, at the point where Missouri, Kentucky, and Illinois come together. The developers saw tremendous possibilities for a transshipment point there.2 The Belief that these conditions would sustain Cairo's growth was reiterated time and time again. Moreover, the expanding American frontier seemed to guarantee development. The situation was fluid and the emergence of new communities was a common occurrence. Nevertheless, from the very first Cairo was plagued with basic problems which made success elusive.
The first speculative effort to build a community in Cairo