Cairo set to turn 150, but without fanfare

Photo courtesy of the Grady County Museum and History CenterCitizens in Cairo celebrate Armistice Day in 1918

CAIRO — The City of Cairo is approaching a major historical milestone next week.

Wednesday, October 28 will mark 150 years since Cairo was granted its first town charter in 1870.

Mayor Howard Thrower said at a recent meeting of the Cairo City Council that the occasion likely will go by without any major celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve had a call or two about a few people wanting to have some big celebrations, which we just can’t do,” Thrower said at the council’s meeting last week.

The mayor said he hoped the council would be able to formally recognize the occasion by proclamation at its next meeting October 26.

Founded in 1870, the initial town of Cairo spanned about a mile across, with its center at the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad Depot on Broad Street, which later became the headquarters of the city police department a century later. The postmaster at the time, W.J. Hall, was given the choice to name the new town Miller Station, owing to its location along the railroad, or Cairo, choosing the latter.

“There’s no reason given (for why the name Cairo was chosen) in any of the things that I’ve seen,” said Don Nickerson, director of the Grady County Museum and History Center. “There’s speculation that because it was a postmaster that it was easier to go with something like Cairo over Miller Station.”

Within a year of the town’s birth, residents were already petitioning the state to set up a new county with Cairo as the seat of government.

Elections held in November of that year selected Wiley Pearce as the town’s first mayor, along with W.T. Rigsby, William Powell and B.L. Hearn to serve on a three-member town council. Council members had the authority to tax and regulate shows, peddlers, bowling alleys, billiard tables and liquor.

Dirt paths became named streets — two running east to west and another two running north to south. Three of the four members of the new government had built homes on what is today Broad Street within the first year of the town's existence, and a school house was constructed as well.

Prior to the town charter being granted, the village known as Cairo had multiple locations within both Decatur and Thomas counties. Villages at the time were postal entities, not political ones, centered around the local post office — typically the home of the postmaster. Nickerson said whenever a new postmaster would take office “suddenly Cairo would be in another place.”

The settlement that eventually became the town of Cairo did not obtain a permanent location until it became the 20th stop along the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad some time before 1870.

Cairo became a city in 1906.

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