Alexander County is the extreme southern county of Illinois, being
bounded on the west by the Mississippi River and south and east by the
Ohio and Cache Rivers. The first European settlers were Tennesseans
named Bird, who occupied the delta and gave it the name of Bird's Point,
which by the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of Discovery had
been transferred to the Missouri shore opposite the mouth of the Ohio.
Alexander County was organized out of Union County in 1819. It was named
for Dr. William M. Alexander, who became Speaker of the Illinois House
of Representatives in 1822. America was the first county seat and was
located on the Ohio River. The county seat was removed to near the
center of the county in 1833 to a community called Unity. In 1943
Alexander County was divided with the eastern portion becoming Pulaski
County. In 1846 the county seat was moved to Thebes along the
Mississippi River. The old log courthouse sitting on a bluff overlooking
the Mississippi can still be visited today. The county seat was moved to
Cairo in 1859 where it remains today.
Cairo is Alexander County’s largest community. It was founded by the
Cairo City & Canal Company in 1837 and incorporated as a city in 1858.
For the first fifteen years the town grew slowly. But by 1860 Cairo
began to emerge as an important steamboat port. Because so much river
traffic used or passed by Cairo that it was designated as a port of
delivery by act of Congress in 1854. The strategic importance of Cairo's
geographic location had sparked great prosperity in Cairo during the
Civil War and that success continued after the war. Because Cairo had
been designated as a port of delivery the Federal government constructed
the United States Custom House and Post Office which was completed in
1872. This building has served many purposes over the years and now is a
museum that interprets the history of Cairo.
section of the Shawnee National Forest is located near Thebes where
there are hiking and other recreational opportunities. Much of the
Shawnee National Forest was exhausted farmland purchased by the Federal
government in the 1930s that was planted with pine trees by the Civilian
Conservation Corps to prevent erosion and help rebuild the soil. The
purchased land was designated as the Shawnee National Forest in 1939.
Just below Thebes is Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area. The 9,550-acre
area includes a 2,400-acre shallow lake.
The lake resembles a Louisiana bayou with its wading herons and
its large stands of cypress, cottonwoods and tupelo gum trees.
In addition to taking in the beauty of the natural features of
the area, visitors can enjoy picnicking, camping, boating, fishing and
hunting as well as 5.5 miles of hiking/biking trails that loop the area.