The Grand Island and Wyoming Central Railroad began laying out the road bed northwest from Grand Island in 1886. The railroad had made three surveys…..one route further south would have taken the railroad through the sod town area, but it was rejected because of the hilly terrain. Railroad officials then decided that a depot for a new community would be placed on the northwest corner of the Walter Kellogg farm. However, one of the railroad men happened to stop at the home of George Bussell, whose farm made up the present ‘west’ side of Cairo.
While eating the evening meal the stranger asked Bussell what he would take for his land. Bussell named a high price and was surprised when the gentleman wrote out an agreement to that effect. The land transferred ownership on January 19th, 1886.
This land was homesteaded on May 8th, 1876 and George Bussell made the necessary improvements to “prove up” his claim. He built a sod house, 12 by 14 feet in size, a frame stable and granary, dug a well, and set out 200 trees. In 1882 he made final proof on his homestead, and his neighbors gave witness to his cultivation of the land and the required residency there. He received title to the land on January 20th, 1883.
George Bussell then built a frame two-story house, which replaced the sod house the young family had been living in. The Bussell home was located at what is now 205 Suez street in Cairo. The land that makes up the ‘east’ side of Cairo was owned by Henry Bussell, a brother of George, and was sold to the railroad for 17 dollars and 50 cents an acre. The deed was recorded on April 9th, 1886
“ The man who once owned the land on which the present city of Cairo is built has come back from Colorado to see it. Henry Bussell came from England in 1871 and in 1872 bought the land – railroad land – for 4 dollars an acre. It was an eighty. The next year he bought another 80 at 12 dollars per acre. His brother George later bought 160 acres. A few years thereafter, Henry Bussell sold his 160 at $17.50 per acre and George sold his for $20. The Burlington depot, the elevator and part of the town is on Henry Bussell’s old land and the rest on that of his brother. The Bussell’s reside at Holyoke, Colorado now, having retired from active farming in that vicinity. Mr. Bussell moved to Chase County, near Imperial, in 1886 and some years later to Colorado”…..July 3, 1925 Grand Island Independent
With the purchase of the land for the new town complete, the railroad sent out a surveyor who mapped out the new town of Cairo on May 13th and 14th, 1886. The town of Abbott was surveyed the next day.
“ I hereby certify that on the 13th and 14th days of May, 1886, I surveyed the town of Cairo, situated on a part of the northwest quarter of section 19, township 12 north, range 11 west, and a part of the northeast quarter of setion 24, township 12 north, range 12 west, which is clearly shown by the plat hereto attached which is a correct delineation of said survey drawn to a scale of 200 feet to an inch.
The streets and alleys are laid out parallel with and at right angles to the line between said northeast quarter and northwest quarter sections, except Railway street which is parallel with the railroad except where otherwise clearly shown. Bur oak stakes are driven well into the ground at the front corners of each lot, and stone are planted low down in the ground at the places indicated on the plat. The width of streets and alleys and dimensions of lots are indicated in feet and decimals by said figures on the plat. Each lot and block bears its own number Witness my hand, this 14th day of June, 1886 Anselmo B. Smith”
With the survey of the new town of Cairo complete, businessmen quickly began making plans to locate here.
“We understand that our friend George Elfers, who formerly lived near Alda, and at present in our city, is going to establish a grocery business in the new town of Cairo, the second station on the B & M railroad, now building from Grand Island to the northwest. The first station on this road will be Abbott. The second about 2 ½ miles from the former Runelsburg, will be Cairo. In a few days Mr. Elfers is going to take his family out to his new place of residence. We have no doubt that Mr. Elfers, who is an able and reliable man, will succeed in his new business….” Editor, The Independent May 21, 1886.
“Building operations have commenced in the new town of Cairo, the second station on the Grand Island and Wyoming Central, 18 miles northwest of Grand Island. Mr. Willing is agent for the town lots, who will be glad to show lots and give such other information as is desired. Mr. Elfers is having his lumber for a grocery store hauled out today. Work on a hardware and drug store will be commenced in a few days. Also the petition for the establishment of a post office at Cairo has been forwarded to Washington.” Editor, The Independent – May 25, 1886
“Cairo is the second station from this city, on the line of the Grand Island and Wyoming Central. It is situated about 18 miles from Grand Island, and is therefore far enough distant to make a fair country town. It is surrounded by a fine agricultural region, and has a splendid town site. Several buildings are being erected, and quite a number of others are completed. Mr. George Willing is putting up a two-story building 60×22 feet to be used as a furniture and hardware store. Mr. Willing is also agent for the Lincoln Land Company and lots are now on sale. Thomas Shurtz of Auburn is building a drug store 22 x 40 feet in dimensions. George Elfers is having a two-story building erected, which he intends using as a grocery store. As yet no dry goods man has put in an appearance, but this chance will not remain long. It is expected that track laying will be completed this evening.” The Independent – May 29, 1886
“Steel has been laid on the Grand Island and Wyoming Central railroad hardly a week, and about twenty-five carloads of stock have been shipped from the new town of Cairo. That seems to be more of a natural trading point than Ravenna, and as soon as the town lot company dispose of their lots at fictitious prices, Ravenna will be a thing of the past” The Independent – June 26, 1886
“Cairo is a beautiful little town situated in Hall County on the B & M 16 miles west of Grand Island, in one of the most fertile farming districts in the state. But one year ago, what is now the main business street of Cairo was a field of thrifty corn. But, one, to believe the magic rapidity with which some of the western farms are converted into substantial, thriving towns, must see them for himself. Fortunes are made in a few years and men raised from poverty to easy circumstances within a few months. This great waste of desert land in our father’s time, has become farms of the most prolific character for the sons. The rapidity with which the west is developing, is bound to place it in the front rank of wealth at no distant day, and the man who procures a good farm now will have an inheritance for his old age. Cairo at this time offers rare advantages for any who wish to locate in a good community and grow up with the country. It is one year old with a population of 200, and nearly all branches of business are represented. The present year, while in the east and north and south they are suffering with drought and failures, Hall County flourishes in the midst of great abundance. This prosperity has given Cairo the weight in the balance, and it has taken on a good healthy growth. Arrangements are being made by the G. A. R. post to erect a large hall. As neat a church as can be found in the west, built by the United Brethren, graces the village. Steps have been taken to erect a church of the Methodist faith, which will be done in the spring. That educational advantages might not be lacking the infancy of the village, the people erected a good building with private funds and dedicated it to school purposes until such a time as a building that will be credit to the town and the people could be erected, which will be done this winter or the coming Summer. Real estate in Cairo is steadily advancing and all indications are that it will not be long in doubling up its value.” Editor – The Cairo Tribune, September, 1887
R. C. Perkins, who homesteaded southeast of Cairo in 1873, moved to St. Paul, Nebraska around 1889 and got started in the newspaper business. On August 23, 1889 Mr. Perkins wrote for the Phonograph concerning his former home town:
“Having occasion to visit this thriving little city, we found all engaged with their usual energy in their various lines of business. Wood Brothers were busy as usual attending to the wants of their numerous customers. The boys were complaining somewhat of dullness in business but from our standpoint their house seemed the center of activity.
The Wingert Brothers were agreeable as usual and seemed to be enjoying a fair share of trade. The boys can supply all the necessities of life to any who mean business, and those who want to swap talk can always make a deal with our venerable friend, P. G. Wingert, father of the above named firm, whose headquarters are with the Brothers. He, besides discussing politics, weather and general news is always ready to serve his friends by drawing deeds, mortgages and other legal documents. Dr. Kern seemed quite busy but reported the health generally, pretty good. The only man that I met who made serious complaints of the state of trade was the shoemaker, who was a little blue because, during the warm weather a good many people go barefooted. However, he thought it would all come right before winter. The genial Elfers seemed gay and happy and is deservedly popular. George is a very obliging and can accommodate a customer to anything from a needle to a tariff discussion.
The meat market has changed hands, Charles Ivers having sold to Mr. Chase. Mine host of the Cairo house seemed busy rushing from all directions with well filled baskets of supplies. From the amount of good things that are known to enter the house, John must certainly entertain his guests pretty well. From the amount of lumber sold the North Platte lumber company are in a prosperous condition. The jolly I. M. Cole has charge of the business and is laboring night and day to advance the interests of his company. The harness manufacturer, O. D. Perkins, was very busy preparing for the fall trade. Omer is a new man here but has captured a fair business by his fairness in dealing and obliging disposition. They say his work never rips, cuts, tears, wears out or gets dirty. Dr. Severe was quite busy attending to the ills that human flesh is heir to. Our friend Stoeger of the Irvin house is always on the alert for everything that will add to the comfort or enjoyment of his guests. Mr. Goodrich of the pioneer drug store carries a fine stock. Jodie and his efficient assistant, Johnnie Bourke, thoroughly understand the drug business and their customers are always satisfied. Leonard Smith reports loans and collections fair and hopes for improvement as the season advances. Len is a good boy and can do as well by his friends as any one.
The blacksmith business of Glock and Lelane is dissolved, Lelane retiring. Randolph Glock is a thorough workman, very obliging, and his prices are always satisfactory. Dell Thompson carries an extensive stock of hardware and machinery. The quality of goods carried, reasonable prices and established reputation for fairness in his business has already obtained for Dell a very large business. The grain buyers, L. W. Lyons at the first elevator and August Thompson at the second, are both anticipating a heavy business this fall and winter. Dr. Robinson is genial and jolly as of yore, always ready to administer quinine or taffy as may be desired.” R. C. Perkins
The first settlers in northwestern Hall County came to what some still considered a part of The Great American Desert. They saw much more than a desert, they saw the potential of the land here. They came with a vision to build up a life on the prairie, cultivate farms and create homes for their families. More than 100 settlers were veterans of the Civil war, at least two of those being former slaves. They came here with a deep love of country and saw themselves as the defenders of American values.