By Russell Baker
Today, per Professor Davey's recommendation and request, I traveled to Cairo, the southernmost city in Illinois, which also happens to be the location where the confluence of the rivers occurs (the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers). I went there to investigate a potential example of Guastavino Cohesive Tile Method Construction for my thesis. As it turned out, I was somewhat disappointed to find out that it was not constructed using this method, but the method did appear to be somewhat similar in nature, and the trip was a good educational experience making the trip, still, a worthwhile endeavor. The brick construction method used in the ceiling was only a single layer of bricks with 2" of concrete on top (See Attached Image by this Author). If it were at least two layers, it would have proved to be 100% useful as a local example of Guastavino tiling for my thesis presentation, but I still enjoyed seeing all that I did.
Before visiting the Cairo Custom House Museum (a partially restored "courthouse"), I first visited the Cairo Public Library, which in itself, is a piece of architecture exemplifying beautiful and intricate details. The purpose of stopping by the library was to search and peruse the original architectural drawings in the Rare Books Archives for the Cairo Custom House designed by architect A.B. Mullet. Mrs. Smith retrieved these drawings for me and I was amazed at the level of detail and ornamentation that was used in the drawings a century-and-a-half ago...by hand at that! It really reminded of the simple yet often taken for granted expression, "They don't make 'em like they used to."
Mrs. Monica Smith told and Mrs. Ogg Louise assisted me in my quest at each of these locations. Mrs. Louise mentioned that Professor Swenson and Professor Davey had assisted in some restoration work involving roof and soffit restoration, etc. They were both very helpful and interesting to talk with. She told me that the steel beams in the ceilings were installed before the Bessemer process was introduced to the area!!! (The Bessemer process was patented in 1855, and plans for construction began in 1867 and construction was completed in 1872). That was cool to learn. The building also used cast iron columns and banisters and other supports and had such a sound foundation that it was considered to be a bomb shelter during World War I. Though some spaces are unfinished due to funding issues, the museum is otherwise filled with really interesting historical exhibits and the amount of history displayed there is baffling. So all in all, although the ceilings weren't exactly what I was hoping for, they were still very interesting to see, and I'm glad I made the short trip to visit these two places.
[Two Scanned Brochure Images Courtesy of The Cairo Custom House Museum, 1400 Washington Avenue, Cairo, Illinois 62914]