Cape Girardeau is a city in Cape Girardeau and Scott counties in the U.S. state of Missouri. It is located approximately 115 miles southeast of St. Louis and 175 miles north of Memphis. It is an emerging college town and the home of Southeast Missouri State University.
The city is named after Jean Baptiste de Girardot, who, in 1733, established a temporary trading post in the area. He was a French soldier stationed at Kaskaskia between 1704–1720 in the French colony of La Louisiane. As early as 1765, a bend in the Mississippi River, about 60 miles south of the French village of Ste. Genevieve had been referred to as Cape Girardot or Girardeau.
The settlement of Girardeau dates back to 1793 when the Spanish government, which had acquired Louisiana in 1764, following the French defeat in the Seven Years’ War, granted Louis Lorimier, a French-Canadian, the right to establish a trading post. This gave him trading privileges and a large tract of land that he could prosper from through land sales and trade with indigenous peoples, such as the Ozark Bluff Dwellers and the Mississippian people.
Also in 1793, Baron Carondelet granted land near Cape Girardeau to the Black Bob Band of the Hathawekela Shawnee, who had migrated from across the Mississippi River. The Band became known as the Cape Girardeau Shawnee and successfully resisted removal to Indian Territory with the rest of the Shawnee tribe until 1833.
In 1799, Mount Tabor, named by the settlers for the Biblical Mount Tabor, was the first English school west of the Mississippi River in Cape Girardeau.
The town of Cape Girardeau was incorporated in 1808, prior to Missouri statehood. It was reincorporated as a city in 1843.
During the Civil War, the city was the site of the Battle of Cape Girardeau on April 26, 1863. The Union and Confederate armies engaged in a short-lived skirmish, each side sustaining casualties generally believed to be in the low double-digits.
For years travelers had to use ferries to cross the Mississippi River from Cape Girardeau. Then, in September 1928, a bridge was completed between Missouri and Illinois. Built to accommodate cars, it was built to the standards of the time.
In December 2003, the “Old Bridge” was succeeded by a new four-lane cable-stay bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau. Its official name is “The Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge,” honoring former U.S. Rep. Bill Emerson. The “Old Bridge,” only 20 feet wide, was completed in September 1928 to replace a ferry. Unfortunately, the “Old Bridge” was demolished after the Emerson Bridge opened.
The city is also known as “The City of Roses” because of a 9-mile stretch of highway that was once lined with dozens of rose bushes. Although there used to be many famous rose gardens around the community, few of these gardens remain. The city is also known as “Cape Girardeau: Where the River Turns a Thousand Tales” due to the history of the town and the Mississippi River.