Flooding and seep water
One of the basic and persistent problems which retarded the growth of Cairo and contributed to its failure was the inability to deal with flooding and underground seep water. Although the handling of floods represented formidable problems during the early years, seep water was the most difficult to deal with. Seep water came in from both the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and forced its way through the lowlands of the community. This created large pools of disease-producing, stagnant water. It was responsible for sewer cave-ins and citizen complaints. Since amelioration of this problem involved heavy expenditures, the community from the very first had to rely on either the Cairo Property Trust (later the Cairo City Property) or the Illinois Central Railroad for support. Neither of these was very helpful.
The flood of 1858 is an illustration of the experience of a flood itself and the dependence of the community on the Cairo City Property. On June 12, 1858, the Mississippi levee broke and the town was flooded. Extensive property damage, disease, and vandalism ensued. Throughout June, July, and August the Cairo City Property and Illinois Central Railroad shifted responsibility for the flood and the necessary repairs to one another.1 Under threat of suit by the Cairo City Property, the Illinois Central Railroad restored the levees to the condition they were in before the overflow. The work was inadequate, and the city had to borrow money with interest from the Cairo City Property in order to have pumps for the city.2
The effects of the flood were several. It caused a considerable exodus of population; estimates ran as high as one