CAIRO — The Cincinnatian thundered through Cairo for the final time in late April 1971. A half century earlier the last passengers hopped off the interurban at Cairo Station. And, although the Lincoln Highway remains, the traffic that made crossing it an adventure now barrels down four-lane U.S. 30 a mile to the south.
In 2010, the village had a population of 524, two churches (Methodist and Congregational Christian) and a single traffic light at the intersection of Main Street (Lincoln Highway) and state Route 65, once nicknamed “dead man’s corner.” An April 5, 1953, article in The Lima News noted, “where the two heavily traveled arteries cross … accidents upset the local citizenry regularly.”
According to the 1885 “History of Allen County,” Cairo was incorporated April 12, 1875. J.S. Clippinger was the mayor and, as of 1885, “the village has no debt, but on the contrary, has about $200 in the treasury.” About 250 people called Cairo home when it was incorporated.
Although it was officially born in 1875, Cairo was conceived on Sept. 5, 1845, when Isaac Miller purchased 80 acres in what would become Monroe Township. The next day Miller purchased an additional 80 acres. Two years later, the plan for the village at the intersection of the Perrysburg (state Route 65) and Bucyrus (now Lincoln Highway/Main Street) roads was laid out.
In a 1922 paper titled “Early Social Life of Monroe Township,” Eunice Trumbo wrote that “Peter Harpster was probably the first settler in this part of Allen County. He and his married sons came here as early as 1835. Samuel Miller and family were the first settlers in what is known as West Cairo.”
West Cairo? In March 1852, according to the county history, a post office was established in Cairo. However, at that time there already was a post office named Cairo in Stark County “so Miller’s village accepted the name West Cairo for its post office.” Although only the post office carried that name, it soon came to be used for the entire village. “West” was dropped from the post office name, though not from common usage, in 1922 when the Stark County post office went out of existence.
In 1848, “B.D. Hartzog built and operated a general store at the corner of Perrysburg and Bucyrus roads. The structure was built of logs,” according to the “Cairo and Monroe Township Bicentennial Times,” published in August 1976. The log store would become a familiar landmark at the intersection, serving over the years as a general store, gas station and restaurant. Logs also “were placed on the streets to keep wagons from bogging down.”
When the Civil War began in 1861, “28 men marched to the west end of Cairo. There they were greeted by a soothsayer” who said all would return from the war, according to the bicentennial story. All 28 did return. But a 29th man, who was late for the muster and the soothsayer, did not.
In the mid-19th century the Dayton & Michigan railroad pushed north from Lima through Cairo and from then on “development of the town was entirely eastward,” The Lima News reported in an April 1953 article. The D&M eventually became the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, home of the Cincinnatian passenger train. Today, 20 to 25 freight trains per day roll through Cairo on the tracks, which are now part of CSX. The Detroit, Toledo & Ironton joined the B&O on the right-of-way at the beginning of the 20th century. Between 1909 and 1922, the Cincinnati and Lake Erie interurban stopped at Cairo Station.
Between 1890 and 1920, Cairo prospered. The Bicentennial Times reported Cairo had five grocery stores, two machine shops, two blacksmith shops, an ax handle factory, grist mill, saw mill, creamery, tannery, three doctors, stockyard, grain elevator, two electric light companies, a telephone company, jail, hardware store, funeral home, two hotels, two drug stores, three railroad lines, barber shop, gas station, beauty shop, new car dealership and three churches. According to an April 1895 newspaper article, a wind-whipped fire at the grain elevator raised fears “the entire town would be licked up by fire.” The fire was contained but did slightly damage the steeple on the neighboring Lutheran church.
The Lincoln Highway, the nation’s first coast-to-coast road, was routed through the thriving town in 1913. “Today,” the News reported in 1953, “the local residents risk life and limb daily when they venture across Main Street. There is a continual stream of trucks and automobiles thru the village on Main Street, which is part of route 30-N.” Between 1920 and 1935, as transportation became easier, except for those on foot crossing the Lincoln Highway, residents increasingly shopped elsewhere. “Cairo’s businesses could no longer compete,” the bicentennial story said.
When the village was incorporated in 1875, the schoolhouse was on the south side of Bucyrus Road. By 1953, the news article reported, “Local boys and girls attend school in a building erected here in 1928 but they have their choice of attending either Lima Central or Columbus Grove high schools.” Most, the article added, opted for Columbus Grove. One who did attend Central was Robert Franklin Jones, who went on to become a Republican U.S. representative from Ohio from 1939 to 1947. In 1947, he was appointed to the Federal Communications Commission by President Harry Truman and served until 1952. Cairo became part of the Bath school district in the 1970s.
In the late 1940s, land was acquired from the old interurban right-of-way for a park and ball fields. The grand opening of Memorial Park in 1948 was marked by a street parade headed by then-Ohio Gov. Frank Lausche, who officially pulled the switch turning on the lights at the ball diamond for the first time.