Illinois Roads - Cairo


The street signs of Cairo, from west to east and south to north: Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. (7), Walnut St. (extension of MLK, Jr. Ave. - 1), 28th St. WB (2), 33rd St. WB (2), 37th St. EB (2), Elm St. SB (2), Poplar St. NB (2), Poplar St. SB (3), Commercial Ave. SB (3), Commercial Ave. NB (3), Haliday Ave. SB (1), Ohio St. SB (1). What would be 13th St. is called Douglas, as if Cairo would somehow be luckier for it. There are also Division, Cross, and Center Streets between 20th and 21st, in the part of the city where US 51 leaves Washington Ave. and the street grid changes direction. MLK, Jr. Ave. was once entirely known as Walnut St., but most of it was renamed. Probably not coincidentally, the only part of the street not renamed is in the white part of the city. Yes, that's right, Cairo has white and black parts, and it's one of the ugliest racial scenarios in the nation to this day. One of the worst areas in the city, Butler Homes, was once the segregated area where African-Americans had to live. The city is now 80% African-American, but the other 20% have clung together in one small neighborhood around St. Mary's Park. Abandoning the rest of the city to the interracial discord and violence of the 1970s, they are now an enclave of well-built homes, maintained lawns, and relative safety - but essentially racially exclusive. The rest of the city, thrust into poverty and left for dead, is now owned by the majority, but they lack the money or the population to maintain it, so lots and entire blocks have become vacant, and many more buildings sit abandoned or in partial stages of self-destruction. Cairo is a lesson in the ugliness our nation has gone through and a pointed reminder that we are not done with it yet. (Note: It is difficult to discuss a sensitive topic like this with the right words. If something in here strikes you as offensive or misguided, please advise how it may be better worded. Though also note that I can detect partiality in a heartbeat, and will not rewrite history for you.)

The city's stop signs fare little better than the city itself. They were probably purchased from the cheapest supplier, the city having no spending money, and as a result, the "STOP" legend is more legible from having rusted through the back of the sign than having faded on the front of it! These photos are: 8th St. WB at Commercial Ave., 14th St. at MLK, Jr. Ave. facing west and east (same sign), MLK, Jr. Ave. NB at Cross St. (sign very badly centered on its cutout), and 35th St. looking east from Highland Ave. I remind you, there are no embossed signs here, only rust bleeding through.

Below a stop sign, this one is actually embossed - 28th St. WB at Park Ave., the block after Park Place West.

Another feature of Cairo's lack of money is old Yield signs that stick around way too long. That said, the red and white standard was in place well before these appear to have been installed. These are on 4th St. WB at MLK, Jr. Ave., 24th St. WB at Pine St., Walnut St. NB ending at Holbrook Ave. (since replaced by a standard one), and Elm St. SB ending at Washington Ave.

Ancient crossbucks, but I don't even see a railroad around the area of 12th St. and Haliday Ave. This is on the northeast corner.

Remaining old signs I found: 19th St. EB from Washington Ave. (US 51), MLK, Jr. Ave. NB near Bennett School at 18th-19th Streets, and Commercial Ave. NB near its end at 38th St. Commercial Ave. has a railroad down the middle, so turning left requires crossing it, but the warning doesn't seem necessary because you will see the train well before your turn. Alternatively, traffic turning right toward the riverfront industries may have to cross the tracks, but the warning should be posted there, not here.

Since I mentioned it, here's Commercial Ave. NB starting at 31st St., where the rails suddenly appear in the median. They suddenly disappear again to the north, so that railroad crossing sign seems even stranger, since no trains can get to these rails. Why haven't they been ripped up? Costs money.

A different railroad, an active one, crosses the Ohio River north of the city. The best/only views are from Commerical Ave.

Commerical Ave. NB - at 8th St., not 5th St. This goes back to the city's ruins I was talking about before. The lower reaches of the city are scarily abandoned.

The number of brick-paved roads around the city again speaks to lack of money - these were nice in the days of segregation, before the rioting and looting and violence, but unless properly maintained, brick is just awful to drive on. The first two photos, 8th St. looking west from Commercial Ave., indeed look like the brick has been replaced, and that speaks to a nascent effort to pretty up as much of the city's remaining historical elements as possible. (I particularly like the brick "tracks" that replicate the ostensible former paths of trolleys.) Sadly, that effort has been nascent for several years, because it's really hard to get funding for a city that no one visits or would ever consider a destination. At best, Cairo can just be a stop on the itinerary for I-57 travelers. The third photo is Poplar St. NB past 12th St. Starting at the fourth photo, I turn from 14th St. onto Ohio St. SB and follow the levee down to 6th St. The 14th St. area of the levee is now painted with murals of Cairo's history - history being all the city has left. The train car is south of the current end of the railroad, with no tracks left to cart it back north.

While I'm along the levee, here are signs on the side. "Levee" was misspelled "Levy" on the original sign, and I like the correction.

More Cairo photos along US 51

Cairo Non-Roads photos
US 60/62
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