Traveling has always been more than just a drive to get somewhere in my life.  Looking for the details was something my parents taught us, making sure we saw all the sides of the places we visited.  When I went to Europe for the first time in high school, I was surrounded by buildings that have endured for centuries, changing uses dozens of times.

Coming from one of our newest states, where progress meant constantly moving forward and not looking back, it took the Historic Preservation efforts of the 1980s to make community leaders stop and see the value there was in the Main Streets and the historic homes.  There was money to be had in the tourist trade and civic pride to be boosted in the salvation of buildings of various architectural trends through the years.  These structures and neighborhoods became works of art to be treasured for future generations.

About 1985 or so, I attended a preservation conference that forever changed the way I looked at towns and cities I visited, especially the city I live in and the surrounding towns.  Neighborhoods that had been decaying suddenly became trendy and adventuresome investors began restoring and updating old oil mansions around town.  The payoff was immediate as property values rose and visitors responded well.  Once, just a few years ago, I was driving an international guest through town, watching him gape at the number of beautiful homes in the older neighborhoods.  We came to a neighborhood shopping area with restaurants and shops in the old storefronts and he beamed…until he saw the section where someone had decided to “modernize,”  making it just another city in his eyes.   I understood because I feel the same way when I visit another city.

But, preservation isn’t always easy.  How do you save a town that let it all go for too long?  A couple of weeks ago, we detoured off the road to visit Cairo, Illinois.  This town sits where the great Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet, an important location in our country’s history.  This should be bustling with tourists and historians learning about the commerce that flourished in that important time when the riverboats ruled the waterways.  Way back, money was diverted from other river communities to build levees in Cairo due to its importance so it wouldn’t be flooded and lost.

Instead, history and man dealt Cairo severe blows with racial tensions and changes in the use of the rivers and the building of the highways that went around the town.  It has become not even a shadow of its former glory.  And, yet, there are those who would like to restore it, an uphill struggle of epic proportions.

We came in under the bridge…DSC_0314…and headed along the main street.  Under a lovely sign declaring the Cairo Historic District, there was only this to be seen.DSC_0316 DSC_0317There was a beautiful old custom house, library and courthouse we’d driven by.DSC_0325A fading sign on a building gave a glimpse of advertising back then.DSC_0318Driving around the residential areas was dismal to one who loves to imagine the old homes bustling with life.DSC_0322I’m not sure I’ve seen such a stretch of sadness.DSC_0319A town that is being reclaimed by nature.DSC_0320Where would you begin?DSC_0321But, another sign had proclaimed an historic neighborhood district and we found a lovely park and a couple of restored mansions that could be toured.DSC_0338And admired…DSC_0328These are on a lovely brick, divided boulevard with a few other homes in various states of livability.  Grass grows through the bricks in different lengths.DSC_0334I salute those who are doing their best to preserve what’s left and I mourn for what the town might and should have been.  Our history is fragile and preservation is important.  We learn from where we were, where we are, and where we’re going.  At the conference I attended so long ago, a statement that stuck with me was the difference in a shopping mall that springs into existence and a downtown that has evolved through its history, showing all the difference eras through its architecture.

Here’s to those who fight to preserve and to make others aware.  It’s worth the battle.