Downtown Cape Girardeau Vintage Aerial Photos from the 60s

Fred Lynch had a Frony picture of cars parked on the Mississippi River wharf before the floodwall was built. I had a couple of frames I took from the air of the downtown area that shows the riverfront area after the floodwall and before the wharf area had been refinished.

(Click on the photos to make them larger. Click on the left or right side of them to step from one to another.)

Many landmarks are clearly visible. The most prominent, in the left center, is the Common Pleas Courthouse, high on a hill overlooking the city. Right behind and above the Court House, look for a white chimney. That’s the Southeast Missourian Tower, which stood 70 or 80 feet above the ground and could be seen as far away as McClure, IL. The tower was razed in 1978 when a new boiler was installed and it became obsolete. It also had shown signs of structural weakness.

Way up at the top center left is Academic Hall at Southeast Missouri State University. The tall, dark steeple of Trinity Lutheran Church is at the left of the frame.

Al’s Shops and the St. Charles Hotel

Here’s a view peeking over the floodwall from the south end of Main Street. Al’s Shops is clearly visible in both the aerial and this photo. Right over the top of Al’s, you can see the sign on the side of the St. Charles Hotel.You also can see the Firestone Store, Woolworth’s, J C Penney’s and Montgomery Wards.

I wonder if all the cars in the parking lot are shoppers or if they are store employees displaced when wharf parking was no longer available.

Stay at the St. Charles for $1.50 a night (and up)

Here’s a sign on Highway 61 between Cape and Jackson that promised ELECTRIC FANS and room rates of $1.50 a night and up at the St. Charles. It was taken April 16, 1967.

That’s even cheaper than the $2-a-night room I stayed in when I covered a Flying Saucer Convention in a small town in the Missouri Ozarks. I don’t recall if it had electric fans for the addition 50 cents. I know the bathroom was down the hall.

I’m still looking for some pictures I have of the St. Charles being razed. In the back of my mind, I see a crumbling brick wall and a window with either a bird flying through it or sitting on the windowsill.

Funny how some things flicker in and out of your memory.

Downtown Cape Girardeau, looking up Broadway

The Common Pleas Courthouse is, again central in the photo. Broadway runs from top to bottom at the right of the photo, Themis is behind and in front of the Courthouse, and Independence is at the left of the photo. Buckner Ragsdale is at the foot of Broadway. The building that became Port Cape Girardeau is at the foot of Themis. The peaked roof, one building to the right of Themis on Main St., is Hecht’s. I can’t make out its iconic wind vane in this photo, unfortunately.

The Idan-Ha Hotel at Broadway and Fountain is visible above The Missourian building and across from the Marquette Hotel. The KFVS tower hadn’t been built yet.

National Register Listings

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has an excellent resource for anyone interested in historical buildings. Go here for a listing for Cape Girardeau County’s National Register Listings. Some of the files are large, so they may not be suitable for folks with slow connections. There are histories of the buildings, maps and photos. It’s a great way to kill some time and learn a lot about the area.

The downtown area is covered by three files all tagged Cape Girardeau Commercial Historical District (with boundary increases).

If you are on Facebook, check out the Old Town Cape fan page and the Cape Girardeau fan page. There’s a lot of interest in Cape on the Internet.

Other visits to the riverfront and downtown area

Mainstreet Midnight Madness Sale 1964

While I was walking around down on Main Street last month, I vaguely remembered covering some kind of late night sale on Main Street on June 6, 1966. (The 6/6/66 Sale is was billed, I think.)

While looking for something else, as usually the case, I found one sleeve of negatives marked Midnight Madness 1964. I don’t know if it was the same sale or not. I think there are more pictures, but these were the ones that bubbled to the top.

I recognize some of the stores and maybe even some of the people, but I’d rather have you leave comments identifying the places or people and any memories you have of either. That’ll mean a lot fewer corrections for me to make. I was always lousy with matching names and faces.

You get to see the good, the bad and the ugly

I got a great piece of advice in early in my career: “The difference between a good photographer and a bad photographer is that a good photographer never shows his bad pictures.” I’m going to break that rule on CapeCentralHigh from time to time. I figure folks might like to see a picture of themselves, even if it isn’t technically or artistically top-rate.

I’ll put these up as a gallery. Click on any image to make it larger, then you can step through the pictures by clicking on the left or right side of the picture.

Midnight Madness, Main Street, Cape Girardeau, MO, 1964

Staying open late was a big deal in 1964

Stores didn’t stay open past 5 or 6 P.M. on weeknights and Blue Laws kept most of them shut on Sunday. In the days before 24-hour Walmarts, getting to shop late at night was a big deal.

I guess Midnight Madness was as close as Cape ever got to a Black Friday, with customers lined up in front of stores waiting for them to open.

The sad thing is that I think only two of the stores on Main Street from our era are still in operation. Everything else has turned into a bar, an antique store or an empty storefront.

[Editor’s note: I just stumbled onto a story in the Southeast Weekly Bulletin from June 13, 1963. Sounds like it might have been the same event or one from a year earlier.]

Cape Girardeau’s Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge

I loved the old bridge, don’t get me wrong. Going across that puppy was a rite of passage when you got your driver’s license.

Having said that, the new bridge is beautiful. I’ll post more stuff when I can get home and find my pix of the old bridge, but here are some shots of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge at night.

View from near the Themis floodgate

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge taken near Themis flood gate

For any photo geeks, the picture was taken with a Nikon D-40 DSLR using an ISO of 200 and an exposure of 5 seconds at f/6.3.

There was a barge working its way upstream (note the light streaks) and I was hoping he would shine his spotlight my way to make an interesting light streak. He was, however, more intent on finding channel markers along the east bank than improving my picture. Click on the image to bring up a larger version.

Views from old Traffic Bridge overlook

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge taken from old bridge overlook

These two pictures were shot at about the same time. The only real difference is that I zoomed out to get both spans in the second picture.

I was hoping to pick up some light streaks from vehicles on the bridge, but traffic was light and there was a cold drizzle tricking down my neck. My working philosophy dictated that I wasn’t required to go hungry, get wet or lift heavy objects.

Why would I want to work any harder to produce a blog?

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge taken from old Traffic Bridge overlook

Couple watching river flow by

Couple watching Mississippi River flow by Cape Girardeau

I was too lazy to set up the tripod for this picture, so I hand-held it at at about one second. That’s why the guy is a little blurry from movement.

Editor’s note

This is far from the final look of this site. The WordPress template that Son Matt picked is different than the one used by my other blog,, and there’s a pretty steep learning curve associated with dealing with a graphics-heavy one like this.

I’m going to be in Cape a few more days shooting new pictures to go along with old ones I’m sure are in the file. After that, I suspect it’ll take me at least a couple of months to get everything organized, scrutinized and digitized. (The only “ized” I haven’t figured out is the monetized one. Maybe I should draft some of the old Girardot and Tiger business staffers to go out and sell ads for me.)

My old earth science teacher, Ernie Chiles, and I are going for a bicycle ride Wednesday. Thursday I’m going over to the old Central High School to see what it looks like after being converted to a junior high school.