Visitors Guide to the
Cairo Customs House Museum
1400 Washington Avenue
Cairo, Illinois
618-734-9632
 

 
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Located in the Historic District of downtown Cairo is the Cairo Custom House Museum. The museum is housed in the building that was constructed as the United States Custom House. The site for the custom house was chosen in 1859 by Illinois Senator and Abraham Lincoln’s opponent in the 1860 presidential campaign Stephen A. Douglas. Construction of the Custom House was postponed until after the Civil War. In 1866 John A. Logan returned to Congress and lobbied successfully for fifty thousand dollars to start construction, with fifty thousand dollars allocated each following year until construction was completed. Construction began in 1867, and the building opened to the public on the evening of June 16, 1872. The original purpose of the Custom House was to house the offices which dealt with collecting duties and tariffs on international imports which had not been offloaded before they reached Cairo on their way up the Mississippi River.

Alfred B. Mullett was chosen as the architect for the Custom House. Mullett was considered to be "extravagant" in his buildings and is famous for the buildings he designed, including the U.S. Treasury Department, an addition to the White House, the St. Louis Post Office, and the San Francisco Mint. The floors of the custom house were made of black slate and white marble square tiles arranged like a checkerboard. Alternating strips of black and white walnut wood were also used for flooring. The fireplaces installed throughout the building were not used for heating, but were designed for ventilation. Italian marble was used for the fireplaces, an example of the extravagance of the architect. The slate used for roofing and other features was brought from Vermont. Most of the stone, however, came from nearby Shawneetown. The building was lighted with gas light fixtures until the 1890s. Electricity was added to the building in the 1890s and in 1892 Elisha Graves Otis added an elevator.

The Custom House has served the community in a number of capacities after the need for a custom house ceased. The building has been used by the U.S. Post Office, the Weather Bureau, the Federal Court system, and the Cairo Police Department. The building was last used in an official function in 1975. A Custom House Restoration Commission was been set up to preserve this once-magnificent building and restoration began in 1984. Restoration on the first floor is complete and has been transformed into a museum that is open to the public. Many interesting displays are shown in the museum including Civil War memorabilia, a replica of the U.S.S. Cairo gunboat, an 1865 Cairo Fire Department hand-operated pumper, and an exhibit on the 1937 flood in Cairo. Information regarding the Custom House architect and a Civil War-era desk used by Ulysses S. Grant when he was in Cairo are also on display.

 
     
  Visiting the Cairo Customs House
     Hours:
          Tuesday - Friday: 10 am - 12 pm and 1 pm - 3 pm

There is no charge to visit the Cairo Customs House.
 
   
 
Directions: The Cairo Customs House is located at 1400 Washington Avenue (US-51) in historic downtown Cairo.
 
   
  GPS Coordinates
37° 00.118'
W 89° 10.329'
 
   
  Learn more about the Cairo area.  
     
 
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