|Southernmost Illinois History||
U.S. Custom House
Cairo, IL 62914
Hours 10-12 & 1-3 M-F
Other tours by appointment. Call Louise Ogg, 618-776-5407 or Monica Smith at Cairo Public Library (across street) 618-734-1840.
Custom House history
Congress in 1854 made Cairo a Port of Delivery. A Surveyor of Customs inspected and collected fees after goods had passed the point of entry at New Orleans.
Sen. Steven A. Douglas picked the site. Alfred Mullett, supervising architect for the US Treasury, designed this building as well as the San Francisco Mint, US Treasury Building and old State Department in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Post Office of Cairo in the 1840s was third in importance in the nation at that time because of its mail connections to and from the emerging West. Overland mail from the east was transferred to boats then stagecoaches for delivery futher west.
The second floor had a collection of government agencies, and a Federal courtroom was on the third floor. On an evening in June, 1872, glowing from gas lights, the building was proudly shown for the first time to the public.
The fireplaces were intended not for heat, but for ventilation. The interior wood is black and white walnut. Floors and hallways are white marble and black slate. Uprights in stairway banisters are iron with the railings of black walnut.
World War I and Civil War canons, and Civil War anchor are near the corners of the building.
Since 1984, the Custom House Restoration Commission and several dedicated volunteers, have worked to clean the old paint and plaster, and turn the building into a museum. Former offices display an old pharmacy, dentist's office and general store.
The first floor has the desk General Grant used while in Cairo, a fire pumper of 1865, replica of the U.S.S. Cairo gunboat, Lewis & Clark, and many other displays. A donation is suggested for visitors.
The A. B. Safford Memorial Library, just across the street from the Custom House, is of red brick, and more than 100 years old. Besides its many books, it has fine architecture, unusual antiques and artwork.
The library has renovated Queen Anne architecture with leaded stained glass windows and ornate woodwork. Its furnishings include a huge oak table once used for gambling on a steamboat, and a magnificent Tiffany clock.
The library's Civil War era records have been used for research by many writers. Library hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, closed weekends. Telephone 618-734-1840.