"It looks like a desert. Let's call it CAIRO!" exclaimed the engineer of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad survey team choosing a name for the water stop 14 miles west of Grand Island. Following the theme of the Dark Continent, Cairo's streets were named: Egypt, Berber, Thebe, Alexandria, Medina, Nubia, Suez, Said, Mecca, and Nile.
Then, in a typically Nebraskan way, the pronunciation was changed over the years to "Karo," as in the syrup! The Cairo Roots Society, researching its history in 1979 and publishing the "Cairo Community Heritage" in 1986 for the Centennial, never determined just when or why.
In 1886 the railroad was built from Grand Island to Billings, Montana, to penetrate the Sandhills ranching country and the lumber regions of Montana. Water stops, placed eight to ten miles apart, were used as freight centers for the farmer's crops and as a result, became towns. Many are still towns, others only ghost towns. Cairo, at the crossroads of highways 2 and 11, is a survivor.
A number of other communities and "inland towns" (those off the rail line) built a store, post office, school, a church and cemetery, but soon disappeared. Such was the fate for such Hall County towns as Cameron, Ovina, Zurick, Berwick, Easton, Rundelett, Loyola, and Runelsburg.
Pioneers began settling this community in 1873. First came farmers and land promoters, later, the railroaders and town's people. Cairo was a typical American "melting pot" settled by many ethnic groups: Germans, Danes, Swedes, Irish, English, Poles, and Blacks. All contributed to the growth of the town.
The Lincoln Land Company wanted George Bussell's farm for the Cairo town site in 1886. He and his wife had just built a beautiful home, so he put a high price on the land and was very surprised when they bought it for $20 an acre. George's house, in the middle of town at 205 Suez Street, is still a show place.
Cairo was bound to boom! Just a year later, what had been a thrifty field of corn was a thriving main street, lined with many businesses. There was also a school, three churches, and three cemeteries and boasted a population of 200.
At this time, young Solon Borglum, son of an Omaha doctor, came to manage his father's ranch near Cairo. Solon, an artist, carved large faces on the bluffs in his spare time. They could still be seen from the road in 1906. Influenced by his brother, Gutzon Borglum (of Mt. Rushmore fame), Solon went to art school in Paris where he was called "le scupteur de la prairie" as his works reflected the horses, cowboys, and Indians that he knew and loved in Nebraska.
Chancey North brought seven imported brood mares and a stallion to Cairo in 1889, where he and William Robinson, acquired a livery stable for their thoroughbred Belgiums. "North & Robinson" was an important, growing industry since the demand for good horses was great. In 1895 they established the first livestock company in Grand Island. The Black Stallion silhouette that topped their barn still stands over the Third City Sale Barn.
By 1900 more businesses were added and Dell Thompson had built an opera house. Cairo had a race track, brick factory, flour mill, a good band, and a sprinkler wagon to water down the streets. Grand Island firms even expanded their businesses to Cairo.
The Village of Cairo grew and improved from the beginning. In 1911 (25 years old), the population was 364; at 50 years, it was 400; when 75 years old, it was 500; and at 100 years, 1986, it had almost 800 people.
The Village of Cairo, that calls itself the "Oasis on the Prairie," still has many old businesses and a growing number of new ones. Coal trains without cabooses now rumble through town night and day, but do not stop. The school, consolidated with Boelus and Dannebrog, is named Centura School District 100.
Folks are proud of Cairo and chose a logo that symbolizes the pioneers with a golden past, while looking for a brighter future. Encircled by a broken ear of harvested corn, it represents the good life of plenty in Nebraskaland, the Cornhusker State.
By Jo Riedy, Cairo, NE 68824
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: Cairo Community Heritage, 1886-1986; 1890 Biographical and Historical Memories of Adams, Clay, Hall, and Hamilton Counties, By Goodspeed; History of the First Settlement in Hall County, NE, by William Stolley; 1920 History of Hall County by Buechler, Barr, & Slough; Schimmer's Sand Krog - Resort on the Platte by Robert Perry, 1984; The Town Builders by Robert N. Manley, 1985; Sheep King - The Story of Robert Taylor by Robert Perry, 1986; Bartenbach's Opera House, by Jane Cunningham, 1987.