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Cairo Custom House

Cairo Custom House

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The Custom House in Cairo was opened in 1872 to house the offices dealing with collecting duties and tariffs on international imports which had not been offloaded before they reached Cairo on their way up the Mississippi River. The building has since served in a variety of capacities, including a museum.

Next time the kids say, "I'm bored," try surprising them with a field trip to a museum or state historic site. Wouldn't that be a really big surprise? A little ice cream incentive might help.

Cairo's U.S. Custom House is a good place to start. It's probably within a one-hour drive, give or take a few minutes, from your driveway. And, it's just like stepping into the pages of a history book -- in 3D! (Glasses not required.)

The museum features a variety of kid-friendly displays, including a replica of the U.S.S. Cairo gunboat and a Cairo Fire Department hand-operated pumper, dating back to 1865. What kid doesn't dream, at one time or another, of becoming a firefighter?

The adults tagging along might enjoy taking a look at the Civil War-era desk used by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant while he was in Cairo, along with other Civil War memorabilia and a Lewis & Clark exhibit.

In its pre-museum years, Cairo's Custom House contained offices that dealt with collecting duties and tariffs on international imports. The historic building at 1400 Washington Ave. also housed a post office, court room and other government agencies. 

Tours of Cairo Custom House Museum are available from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and by appointment. Donations of $2 for an adult and $1 for a child are requested.

Museum docent Louise Ogg says volunteers are needed pretty badly. Something to think about ....

During your trip to southernmost Illinois, swing by Fort Defiance Park for a gorgeous view of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Also, don't forget to grab a sandwich at Shemwell's Barbecue. That, alone, is worth the drive to Cairo.


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