PC/AHC: Largest possible Cairo, Illinois

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Zachariah, Aug 13, 2019.

  1. Zachariah Well-Known Member

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    Jan 28, 2016
    Located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the first municipal charter for Cairo, Illinois, and for the Bank of Cairo, were issued in 1818; but without any settlement and without any depositors, this first attempt was stillborn. A second and successful effort to establish a town here was made by the Cairo City and Canal Company in 1836–37, with a large levee built to encircle the site. However, this effort collapsed in 1840, with few settlers remaining; with Charles Dickens' visit to the near-abandoned site in 1842 inspiring the nightmare City of Eden in his novel Martin Chuzzlewit.

    In 1846 though, 10,000 acres in Cairo were purchased by the trustees of the Cairo City Property Trust, a group of investors who planned to make it the terminus of the projected Illinois Central Railroad. Cairo also belatedly began growing as an important river port for steamboats, which traveled all the way south to New Orleans, with the city had been designated as a port of delivery by Act of Congress in 1854, and the Illinois Central Railroad finally arrived there a year later, in 1855. A new city charter was written in 1857, and Cairo flourished as trade with Chicago to the north spurred development, with the population exceeding 2,000 by 1860.

    Just wondering, though, about a potential ATL revolving around the city of Cairo IL, and what might have been. What if, at the time when the first municipal charter for the city and the Bank of Cairo were issues, in 1818 as IOTL, there had been a concerted, successful effort to attract a significant number of settlers and depositors immediately, rather than the initial establishment of the town settlement being delayed by almost two decades. How large, and significant, could the city of Cairo conceivably become ITTL? And what sort of butterflies might this have?
     
  2. James Proffer Member

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    Jul 2, 2016
    Just wondering, though, about a potential ATL revolving around the city of Cairo IL, and what might have been. What if, at the time when the first municipal charter for the city and the Bank of Cairo were issues, in 1818 as IOTL, there had been a concerted, successful effort to attract a significant number of settlers and depositors immediately, rather than the initial establishment of the town settlement being delayed by almost two decades. How large, and significant, could the city of Cairo conceivably become ITTL? And what sort of butterflies might this have?[/QUOTE]


    South - across the Ohio in Kentucky is swamp
    West - across the Mississippi in Missouri is swamp
    North - in Illinois is swamp
    East - in Illinois is swamp

    The small amount of the high ground that today's Cairo occupies is full. If southern Illinois had the same amount of high ground along the rivers as St. Louis then *Cairo would prosper. But it doesn't. So it can't which is too bad because there is a space for a major city right there.

    As it is today the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi at Cairo is a major barge transfer point. For various reasons the river workers mostly live in Charleston, MO or Wickliffe, KY.
     
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  3. Zachariah Well-Known Member

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    Jan 28, 2016
    Well, you could have said the same things about places like New Orleans and Miami, but they panned out to be far bigger and more populous. Why couldn't Cairo be bigger, if the swamps were cleared- extending to encompass the rest of the former Jackson County? Or OTL's Alexander and Pulaski Counties, at the very least?
     
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  4. James Proffer Member

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    Jul 2, 2016

    Don't know enough about Miami to have an opinion.

    The French Quarter of New Orleans is big enough to hold at least a middle sized city. Plus it's where the mouth of the Mississippi is so the port has to be there.

    Cairo is, I think, a chicken/egg conundrum. If the swamps were drained then the city would be built. If the city already existed then the money would be found to drain the swamps. Plus it's not just swamp, it's also the floods. i.e. The Mississippi was above flood stage 125 straight days this year (ending last week). So it's drain the swamps and build the levees.

    The swamps on the Missouri side of the river were not drained until the 1930s as a WPA project. (Work was started in the 1920s.) AFAIK the Illinois and Kentucky swamps never have been drained.
     
  5. Nephi Well-Known Member

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    Mar 16, 2017
    Have you ever been? Granted people do live in worse places, but spend a summer there. You'll understand why it isn't so big.
     
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  6. Zachariah Well-Known Member

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    Jan 28, 2016
    That's kind of the point of this thread though, and of the TL. ITTL, with the city's first settlers arriving in 1818 as originally intended, rather than a full 18 years later, with proper growth only commencing a full 28 years later. The city DID technically already exist; it was just that no-one bothered to actually get settlers out there for decades. But what if they had, and Cairo had gotten that headstart?
     
  7. Jiraiyathegallant Well-Known Member

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    Jun 4, 2012
    It seems like it has a lot of issues as appealing as it sounds on paper. Those two rivers and the swamps in the subtropical environment enabled significant mosquito borne illness that is going to make people hesitant to move there. The city itself is a small isthmus because of the rivers and is at a low elevation.

    The city still could have done better without the racial strife, with earlier drained swamps, and a gambling permit, but it sounds like the city requires an incredibly large amount of work over a relatively small amount of land and still runs constant risk of being wiped out by a flood. It already had a lot of outside investment put into it as it was. I don’t think it is incapable of being a city with 100,000+ people, but I feel like as good as it sounds the utility of the city is less than it appears and that’s why it peaked at ~20,000 and now has 2,000.
     
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  8. Zachariah Well-Known Member

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    Jan 28, 2016
    I was actually kind of thinking about increasing the racial strife, to some extent. After all, as the most tropical part of Illinois, and the place where you had the most support for Slavery in the State of Illinois;
    [​IMG]
    Couldn't you have the potential to increase Cairo's population a lot, early on, by attracting those early settlers and depositors from the Deep South, with the establishment of slave plantations (or at the very least, efforts to do so)? And remember, it was an important crossroads on both the Underground Railroad and Reverse Underground Railroad. Couldn't Cairo easily become the epicenter of Black Illinois? If the state laws forbidding segregation weren't passed in 1874, and the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 1885 wasn't either- or even if they were, as IOTL- couldn't a bigger, longer legacy of slavery in Southern Illinois lead to a vastly increased African American community? With Cairo becoming the center of the African American population of Illinois?
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
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  9. M79 Well-Known Member

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    Jan 8, 2007
    A growing Cairo before the Civil War risks the city seceding given its trade links and the status of Little Egypt in the days before Chicago's rise. That being said, use the bounty of 1834 to invest heavily in development of Cairo as a port town specifically to compete with St Louis and Louisville. Grow the city up into Illinois itself and have a growth rate comparable to Chicago but start a decade earlier with 500 people and you get a city of 13,500 - start a city of the same size in 1814 and potentially you have a city of 100,000. From there it is only a question of expansion and flood protection though 1937 will be a terrible year. St Louis is likely not as prominent and that alone will cause some shifts as well.
     
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  10. thekingsguard Founder of Korsgaardianism

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    There's a reason the population peaked in the 20s - it was hammered by bad floods and the worst chain of tornados in US history, and never really recovered.

    Cairo, Illinois found it's doom in the same way it would need to find it's salvation - geography.
     
  11. Zachariah Well-Known Member

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    Jan 28, 2016
    Well, this question isn't just about making it as large as possible by the present day. It's about how big it can get at its peak, whenever that peak comes.
     
  12. M79 Well-Known Member

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    Jan 8, 2007
    -Have 1818 bank given state aid as part of settlement scheme

    -Connect Cache River on both sides and fill in Mississippi river gap at Angelo Towhead turning Cairo into a large island

    -Any settlers/townsfolk must by law build up their homes on 6+ feet height of earth or stilts until filled in (won't stop all flooding but should mitigate some of the damage)

    -Illinois must invest in the location and help develop larger levees to maintain momentum

    -Civil war sees further development and growth as beachhead for Tennessee, Mississippi River, and various other operations

    -Post-war the railhead port becomes jump point between Southern and Northern trade, Mound City grows as suburb and drier plateau, eventually becoming main commercial district