Friday, September 2, 2016

FL Road Trip - Cairo, Ill

This is a series of places we visited along a road trip to Florida to handle some family issues.  As always, the road just invites me to explore "something else", and that is what we did during our one week trip.

Cairo, Il.  Aside from the fact this abandoned-looking town at the foot of Illinois and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers had lots of cool old Victorian buildings, it also has a flood gate across the highway.
Laughing, we called it the "Gates of Mordor" and drove through it a couple times, looking at the details.
That's right, a real, manually lowered by 2 men, flood gate made into the dike that surrounds the town built back in the 1920's.  The "Big Subway Gate" weighs 80 tons, is 60 feet wide, 24 feet high and 5 feet thick.

The south entrance to the town is by a bridge that connects Kentucky and Illinois on the top of the dike.  The north exit on highway 51 runs through the dike and gate with the railroad tracks on top of it.  The levees were first built in 1836 - 1837, and the area was a supply point for the Union during the Civil War.  After the 1937 Ohio River Flood, the levee was raised to 64 feet to protect the town.
Cairo had once been a bustling port with a population of 15,000 souls in the 1920's.  In 2010, the population had shrunk to just over 2000, the same as it was back in 1860.  Constant flooding of the area is part of the reason, but so is rampant unemployment, serious racial tensions (including 2 lynchings in 1909 to a 1967 hanging in the city jail, shooting the sheriff in 1970, 60% of the population under poverty today) and business automation.

To drive through Cairo, you must leave the Interstate and follow back roads.  On I-24 in Paducah, Kentucky, take exit 4 and drive west on US 60 to Wickliffe, KY.  Turn right on US 51 and follow that north along the tops of levees.  Take the bridge across the Ohio River and enter Cairo.  Keep driving north on 51 and you will pass under the gate on the way out of town.  Just north of town, you can either continue on to I-57 which will link up with I-24 again, or turn left onto Illinois 3 which you can take to a left on IL 146 and cross the Mississippi River through Cape Girardeau to reach I-55.  We went that way to return to I-70 & I-270, west of St. Louis to head back home.

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