Before humans lived in this area, the Mississippi River Valley was a great wide wetland teaming with plant and animal life. The hawthorne plant, with its brilliant blossoms and bright red berries, became the Missouri state flower. The Carolina parakeet, once prevalent in the river valley, had generally vanished by 1900. The last known member of the species died on February 21, 1918, in the Cincinnati Zoo.
Between 1803 and 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led President Jefferson's Corps of Discovery to the great American West. On November 23, 1803, they stopped at Cape Girardeau to deliver letters of introduction to Louis Lorimier. Captain Lewis found him presiding at a horse race. Later that evening, Lewis dined with Lorimier and his Shawnee wife Charlotte and was impressed by the beauty of one of their daughters.
In 1793 Spanish officials in St. Louis named Louis Lorimier the Commandant of the District of Cape Girardeau. Shortly thereafter, he reveived Spanish land grants totaling several thousand arpents (1 arpent = .85 acres). In 1806 Lorimier and his secretary, Barthelemi Cousin, laid out lot and street plans along the wide, flat riverfront. In 1808 the small riverfront village was incorporated as the town of Cape Girardeau.
An exciting incident occurred at the Battle of Cape Girardeau on April 23, 1863, when Confederate forces attacked from the west and south of town. During the battled several Confederate cannon balls pierced the roof of the residence of Alfred Lacey on Caruthers Street. Ike, a family slave, extinguished the resulting flames in the midst of the battle, saving the house from destruction.
St. Vincent’s Young Ladies’ Academy was founded in 1839 by the Sisters of Loretto as a school for young women. Located at the corner of Spanish and Good Hope Streets, it was one of the first schools for women west of the Mississippi. Prior to its closing in 1923, thousands of young ladies were educated at the institution.
The first sitting President to visit Cape Girardeau was William Howard Taft, who arrived on the riverfront in the early morning of October 26, 1909. He was part of a 16-boat flotilla carrying cabinet members, Congressmen, governors, river commissioners and a large number of dignitaries who came down the river to publicize the developing effort to stabilize and deepen the river channel. A large welcome arch was constructed over the Themis Street entrance to the city. A crowd estimated at 25,000 gathered to hear the President speak from the steps of the new Academic Hall on the college campus. It was a day of great celebration in Cape, for years remembered as "Taft Day".