Cape Girardeau, Missouri

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Cape Girardeau (unofficial nickname: "The City of Roses"; often simply called "Cape") is a city in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, on the Mississippi River. With a population of 37,941 at the 2010 census, it is the largest city in the county and in southeastern Missouri overall.

The city has been significant as a river port and regional economic hub since the late 18th century. Today, it is best known as the home of Southeast Missouri State University, and as the hometown of conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh.


Several Indian tribes lived in the Cape Girardeau area before the era of European settlement. One of the more prominent was the so-called Capahas, who had a large encampment a short distance southwest of the Mississippi. When a Spanish expedition under Hernando de Soto explored the area in 1540, it made contact with the tribe, and the Capaha name became associated with the region (living on for example in today's Capaha Park near the university).

Though subsequent Spanish and French explorers passed through in the next two centuries, the first European to have a long-term presence in the area was Jean Baptiste de Girardot, an ensign in the French army who was stationed upriver at Kaskaskia Island during the early 18th century. In 1733, Girardot established a trading post a couple miles north of the current downtown district, upon a rocky promontory or "cape" that jutted out into the Mississippi. Although Girardot himself eventually departed, he stayed long enough for his trading post to become well known and be used for some time by fur trappers and river traders, and for his name to be permanently attached to it. By 1765 at the latest, maps and other documents referred to the spot as "Cape Girardot" or "Cape Girardeau," the latter spelling becoming more common over time. (It is often claimed that Cape Girardeau was home to the only inland "cape" in the world. This is hard to verify and in any case irrelevant, as the promontory was mostly destroyed during railroad construction around 1900. A fragment of the original rock, together with a memorial, remains in Cape Rock Park.)

In the spring of 1793, to cement relations with the various tribes in the Mississippi Valley and hopefully deter invasion by the new United States, the Spanish colonial government in St. Louis appointed Louis Lorimier, a French-Canadian who had great influence with the Shawnee and Delaware nations, as commandant of the newly formed Cape Girardeau district, which encompassed much of the territory between Ste. Genevieve and New Madrid. Lorimier reestablished a trading post and small permanent settlement south of the old "Cape Rock" site, encouraged the resettlement of many of his Indian acquaintances, and built the first house near the present-day St. Vincent's Church (called "the Red House"). Despite the efforts of Lorimier and his superiors, though, American immigration to the area rapidly increased, and by the time of the handover of the Louisiana Territory in 1804, these settlers were already the majority of the local population.

The town of Cape Girardeau was laid out in 1806 by Barthelimi Cousin, Lorimier's French secretary, and incorporated two years later. It served as the seat of government for the newly-formed Cape Girardeau County until that seat was transferred to the new town of Jackson in 1815, a loss which slowed its growth somewhat.[1] The growth of the steamboat trade in the 1830s, however, revitalized the town, and many of the families who would be prominent in its history made their fortunes at this point. Cape was incorporated as a city in 1843, with one E. Mason serving as the first mayor; a bank and steam flouring mill were added in the 1850s, while the Southeast District Agricultural Society (today the SEMO District Fair) was first held in 1855.

Due to its proximity to the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Cape Girardeau was an important strategic point for both sides in the Civil War. Although a majority of the local citizens were probably sympathetic to the South (leaving aside the considerable number of German immigrants, who were generally anti-slavery), Union forces succeeded in taking the town in July 1861, and quickly constructed four forts to defend against Confederate attacks (the remains of one, Fort D, are still visible south of the downtown district). Ulysses S. Grant, at that time a brigadier general, briefly made Cape his headquarters prior to his Belmont campaign later that same year. A Confederate invasion of Southeast Missouri in the spring of 1863 resulted in the Battle of Cape Girardeau on April 26, in which the Confederates attacked the defensive forts but were repulsed and later retreated to Arkansas. This was the last significant military action the town saw during the war.[2]

After the war, Cape struggled somewhat to the disordering effects of the conflict, as well as the loss of the steamboat trade, which fell off after the 1870s. It recovered thanks to the existence of the State Normal School (the future Southeast Missouri State University), established in 1873 for the training of teachers, and even more to the construction of a network of local railroads by prominent businessman and city booster Louis Houck around 1900, connecting Cape to many of the smaller towns to the south. Between 1900 and 1910 the city's population nearly doubled to over 8,000, and it rapidly expanded beyond the original area of settlement. A further boost came in 1928 with the completion of a bridge across the Mississippi to Illinois, which stood until (following the construction of a more modern bridge nearby) its demolition in 2004.

An airport was opened in the 1940s, providing regional air transport. The arrival of Interstate 55 in the 1960s further spurred the city's growth, particularly to the north and west, as more and more businesses, especially retail and service, relocated to the area between Kingshighway and the interstate. Cape's population has steadily increased throughout the 20th century, though it slowed considerably after the 1960s, as more and more people chose to live in nearby Jackson or outside city limits. This did not affect its economic prosperity, however, and by 2010 it was approaching the 40,000 mark.[3]

In recent years, efforts have been made to revitalize the downtown area, with the addition of restaurants, specialty stores, a riverwalk with murals, and a casino that opened in 2012.[4] In January 2008, Cape Girardeau was recognized by then-First Lady Laura Bush as a Preserve America Community in honor of its efforts to preserve the downtown area and other historic landmarks.[5]


Cape Girardeau is located in southeastern Cape Girardeau County, with the Mississippi River forming its eastern boundary. The original town (and current downtown district) extended between North and William Streets to the north and south respectively, and west to Middle Street. Since that time, the city boundaries have extended outward to Interstate 55 to the west, north beyond Lexington Avenue, and south to Highway 74 (not including several more distant incorporations). The city's official coordinates are 37°18’33”N 89°32’47”W. It is roughly 115 miles southeast of St. Louis and 175 miles north of Memphis.

The city has a total area of 28.49 square miles, 28.43 of land and 0.06 of water, and an average elevation of 351 feet.[6] The lowest-lying regions are the river bottomlands south of Shawnee Park and the "Red Star" district north of downtown, which frequently floods during high water on the Mississippi; several elevations in the northwest part of the city, by contrast, are over 500 feet.[7]


Like most of Southeast Missouri, Cape Girardeau has a humid subtropical climate, characterized by hot summers and cool winters with a moderately high amount of precipitation. Average daily temperatures range from 33°F in January to 79°F in July, and the average annual precipitation is 46.8 inches. The average growing season is 199 days. The record high temperature is 107°F, recorded on June 29, 2012, and the record low is -18°F, recorded on January 11, 1977.[8]

Month Average High (°F) Average Low (°F) Average Precipitation (in)
January 40.8 24.0 3.38
February 47.2 28.6 3.44
March 57.6 37.5 4.57
April 68.5 46.4 4.34
May 77.7 56.3 5.09
June 86.3 65.0 3.81
July 90.1 68.9 3.45
August 88.3 66.3 3.28
September 80.9 58.1 3.30
October 70.5 46.1 3.17
November 56.4 37.1 4.50
December 44.8 28.2 4.21


Most of the early residents of Cape Girardeau were of British descent and came from states of the Upper South, such as Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina. A significant wave of German immigrants followed in the 1830s and '40s, and most of the white residents today are descended from these two groups. The proportion of African-Americans has never been very high, though it increased somewhat during the 20th century, as blacks from the agricultural "Bootheel" came north to the city for work.

At the 2010 census, Cape Girardeau had a total of 37,941 inhabitants, grouped into 15,205 households, with a population density of 1,334.5 people per square mile. This figure marked a moderate increase from the 2000 census, when Cape Girardeau had a population of 35,349. 81.13% of the inhabitants were White, 12.75% were African-American, 0.23% were Native American, 1.89% were Asian, 0.04% were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 1.54% were from some other race, and 2.40% were from two or more races. Hispanics of any race were 2.76% of the population.

The median age in Cape Girardeau was 32.1 years, with 19.3% of inhabitants under the age of 18, 20.2% between 18 and 24 years old (reflecting the presence of a large body of college students), 23.5% between 25 and 44, 22.2% between 45 and 64, and 14.7% 65 years old or older. The sex ratio was 47.4% male, 52.6% female.[9]

According to the 2017 American Community Survey, Cape Girardeau had a median household income of $42,078, and a median family income of $62,320. The unemployment rate was 6.0%. The per capita income was $24,339. About 24.6% of the population lived below the poverty line, including 27.9% of people under the age of 18 and 7.0% of people 65 years old or older.[10]


Since 1966, Cape Girardeau has had a council-manager form of government, under which a mayor and city council members are elected, who in turn appoint a city manager who handles most of the day-to-day business of the city, including selecting the heads of the various municipal departments. The mayor and the six council members (one from each of the city's wards) are elected for four-year terms. The current mayor is Bob Fox, elected in April 2018; the city manager is Scott Meyer.[11]

Most of the city is part of the 147th District in the Missouri House of Representatives, represented since 2012 by local Republican Kathy Swan; a few recently annexed neighborhoods on the northwest side belong to the 146th District, represented since 2018 by Republican Barry Hovis. As a whole, the city is reliably Republican in its politics (with the exception of a couple precincts to the south, which are more heavily African-American and frequently vote Democratic). In 2016, Donald Trump won the city with 62.13% of the vote.[12]


The Cape area has always been economically significant due to its access to the Mississippi River and in turn its status as a trade hub for the Southeast Missouri region. Agriculture has been and continues to be important in the vicinity, and various forms of light manufacturing have existed within the city since the 19th century; in recent decades, service-oriented industries have come to predominate. Today, the four leading economic sectors are health care, education, manufacturing, and retail trade, in that order.[13]

The five largest employers in the city are, in order: Southeast Health, Saint Francis Medical Center, Procter & Gamble, Southeast Missouri State University, and Cape Girardeau Public Schools, with a workforce of some 8,500 between them. Wal-Mart, Drury Hotels, Isle of Capri Casino, and Robinson Construction are also major employers.

The city government and the local Chamber of Commerce are heavily involved in local economic development, with the former offering various tax rebates or financing plans to help establish small businesses and encourage neighborhood improvement. Over 250 new businesses opened in Cape Girardeau in 2018 alone.[14]


Education has long been central to the Cape region's identity. The Mount Tabor school, founded by incoming settlers in 1799, was said to be the first English-language school west of the Mississippi. Several academies and other advanced institutions were established in the antebellum era, followed by the State Normal School for the training of teachers in 1873.

Today, the entire city is served by a single district, Cape Girardeau Public Schools. It includes the following:

Elementary Schools:

  • Alma Schrader
  • Blanchard
  • Clippard
  • Franklin
  • Jefferson

Middle Schools:

  • Central Middle School

Junior High Schools:

  • Central Junior High School

Senior High Schools:

  • Central Senior High School

Alternative Schools:

  • Career and Technology Center[15]

The schools have a combined enrollment of over 4,200 students. Cape's mascot is the Tigers, and the school colors are orange, black, and white.[16]

The following private (mostly parochial) schools are also located in or near the city:

  • Cape Christian School (non-denominational)
  • Notre Dame Regional High School (Roman Catholic)
  • Trinity Lutheran School (Lutheran)
  • Eagle Ridge Christian School (non-denominational)
  • Prodigy Leadership Academy (Baptist)
  • St. Mark Lutheran Preschool (Lutheran)
  • St. Mary's Cathedral School (Roman Catholic)
  • St. Vincent de Paul Grade School (Roman Catholic)

Cape Girardeau is also the home of Southeast Missouri State University.

The Cape Girardeau Public Library, on North Clark Street, has served the region since its founding in 1922.[17]


The most significant highway in Cape Girardeau is Interstate 55, which runs along the city's western boundary, providing direct connections to such larger cities as St. Louis and Memphis, and many of the city's retail and service businesses, such as Wal-Mart, Target, and numerous restaurants and hotels, are located in its vicinity. U.S. Route 61, which intersects with the interstate at Cape's northern and southern ends, loops through the west-central part of the city as Kingshighway, providing another important business district. Other major highways include Missouri State Highways 34 and 74, both of which have their eastern terminus in Cape.

A highway bridge across the Mississippi to Illinois was opened in 1928. In 2003, it was replaced with the more modern Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, named for a former Republican congressman. The city does not have a full-service river port, though most boats are capable of docking there; facilities for barge traffic are provided by the Southeast Missouri Port Authority at Scott City just to the south.

The Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority operates bus and taxi service within the city, catering especially to the elderly. Proposals to reestablish trolley service in the downtown area have been floated in recent years, but so far have not been implemented.

The city owns the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, located along I-55 near the southern city limits. A full-service airport with a 6,500-foot runway, its airlines and flight connections have varied over the years; currently, it provides regular flights via United Airlines to Chicago O'Hare Airport.[18]


Cape Girardeau has one regular newspaper, the Southeast Missourian, which has been in operation since 1904 (until 1918, it was called The Daily Republican). Currently owned by the Rust Communications media group, it publishes six days a week and is generally conservative in its editorial commentary.

A number of radio and television stations are located in Cape, broadcasting from the KBSI tower outside the city. These include:


KAPE (1550 AM), news/talk format; KEZS (102.9 FM), country music; KGIR (1220 AM), sports-talk; KGMO (100.7 FM), classic rock; KHEZ (107.9 FM), Christian contemporary; KRCU (90.9 FM), public radio; KZIM (960 AM), news/talk.


Two TV stations operate in Cape, CBS network affiliate KFVS-TV (channel 12) and Fox network affiliate KBSI (channel 23). KFVS has been in operation since 1954, KBSI since 1983.

Notable People

  • William Barnes, head football coach for UCLA from 1958 to 1964
  • Peter Kinder, Missouri lieutenant governor from 2005 to 2017
  • Rush Limbaugh, conservative author and talk-radio host
  • David Limbaugh, conservative Christian author and columnist, younger brother of Rush Limbaugh
  • Stephen Limbaugh, United States District Court judge, cousin of Rush and David Limbaugh
  • William S. Stone, former superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy