Cairo, incorporated in 1870, is located in Grady County in southwest Georgia, thirty miles north of Tallahassee, Florida. Named either for the city in Egypt or for Cairo, Illinois, but pronounced "Cayroe," the city has been the county seat since 1906. For decades it was known as the heart of Georgia's syrup industry.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, Cairo has 9,607 residents. The town covers 9.37 square miles and is governed by a five-member city council, mayor, and an appointed city manager. Manufacturing and the retail and wholesale trades are the top industries. A satellite campus of Southwest Georgia Technical College opened in Cairo in 2006.
Early settlers include Henry Miller, who moved to what was then Thomas County in 1842, when Miller's Station was a stagecoach stop between Thomasville and Bainbridge. By 1860 the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad had bought land for a depot from residents Nancy and Malachi Collins as well as from Phoebe and Washington Baggett. In 1866 H. H. Tooke and James H. Hayes sold their land in the area so that the town of Cairo could be founded.
In 1862 Henry Miller sold his land to Seaborn Anderson Roddenbery. That same year, Roddenbery began his medicine practice in a horse-drawn buggy, from which he sold his open-kettle sugarcane syrup. By 1867 Roddenbery had an office and a general store that sold syrup from large cypress barrels, and people brought their own jars to be filled with his molasses.
Having escaped most of the ravages of the Civil War (1861-65), the Cairo area grew rapidly at the turn of the twentieth century. Located on the Lower Coastal Plain of southwest Georgia, the area is known for its many streams, long growing season, and sandy loam soil that produces many diverse crops.
The former county courthouse, which was destroyed by fire in 1980, and jail were built in 1908. The current courthouse was built in the 1980s. The city's newspaper, the Cairo Messenger, was founded in 1904 and has been owned and operated by five generations of the Wind family ever since. In 2004 the Georgia legislature commemorated the newspaper's centenary.
Notable Residents and Events
The city hosts several festivals, the most famous of which is the Great Southern Antique Car Rally, for which Cairo earned its nickname as Georgia's Hospitality City. Along with matchbox cars and antique bicycles, the Cairo Antique Auto Museum boasts examples of the world's most expensive cars from every decade of the 1900s.
Yvonne Miller Brunton, Grady County, Georgia: Some of Its History, Folk Architecture, and Families, 2d ed. (Danielsville, Ga.: Heritage Papers, 1981).
Messenger Historical (Cairo, Ga.: Messenger Publishing Company, 1967).
Robert E. Luckett Jr., University of Georgia
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