Discover / Pullman Historic District
Save a National Treasure
REGION: Midwest
LOCATION:
Chicago, IL
TYPE: Community
Administration Building | Photo by Cynthia Lynn
Administration Building | Photo by Cynthia Lynn

Pullman National Monument

On Thursday, February 19, President Obama personally visited Pullman in order to designate the community as Pullman National Monument. At a celebration including bipartisan representation from the Illinois congressional delegation and hundreds of community supporters, President Obama affirmed the national significance of Pullman and the many American stories it tells. The National Trust has been involved with efforts to preserve and promote Pullman for over a decade, and we applaud the President's decisive action on behalf of this National Treasure.

Opportunity
Recognize the rich social history and architectural beauty of Pullman by designating the neighborhood as a unit of the National Park System.

Overview

Thirteen miles south of downtown Chicago, the model industrial town founded by George Pullman in the late 19th century remains largely intact. While its collection of architecturally unique homes, factory buildings, and landmark structures have been the focus of revitalization efforts by the State of Illinois, City of Chicago and community groups and partner organizations for many years, designating Pullman as a unit of the National Park System would dramatically increase awareness of this historic place among heritage travelers and encourage enhanced economic development opportunities there. The Trust has joined a robust coalition advocating for designation of Pullman as a National Park, including the National Parks Conservation Association, numerous civic, business and community organizations, and elected officials at the local, state and federal level.

National Significance

George Pullman founded the nation’s first model industrial town in 1880 to attract skilled workers to his Pullman Palace Car Company, which manufactured railroad passenger cars. Designed by noted architect Solon S. Beman and landscape architect Nathan Barrett, Pullman’s 300 acres provided a healthful and attractive environment for Pullman employees and their families.  However, the company’s efforts to closely regulate residents’ behavior quickly began causing frustration. The situation came to a head in 1894 when, in response to an economic downturn, the company laid off workers and reduced wages without reducing the rent, leading to one of the most divisive labor strikes in American history. In addition, Pullman has a historic connection to the first all African-American union in the country—the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, organized by Asa Philip Randolph—which negotiated a major labor agreement with the Pullman Company in 1937 leading to better wages and hours. Many of Pullman’s iconic buildings remain, including the Administration and Factory Complex, the Hotel Florence, and the Greenstone Church, along with the vast majority of its original brick row houses. Establishing Pullman as a National Park would raise awareness of the outsize role Pullman has played in American history, while also serving as a national model for the ability of urban National Parks to revitalize historic neighborhoods.

Campaign Goals

  • Work with the National Parks Conservation Association, elected officials, community organizations, and local residents to designate Pullman as a unit of the National Park System.

Ways To Help

Thank President Obama for making Pullman a National Monument!

Posted on April 24, 2015

Pullman AIA CharretteWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJSandy headshot

The Pullman Historic District is not resting on its laurels after President Obama designated it a National Monument in February – quite the opposite!  In the past month, two separate planning workshops convened to look ahead at the community’s future.    

This past week, the “Positioning Pullman” workshop challenged architects, planners, economists, educators, preservationists, and community members to think about what’s next for Pullman.  The “collaborative ideas workshop” was co-hosted by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the National Parks Conservation Association.  National Trust staff participated as “Alliance Partners” in the three-day intensive exercise, which culminated with an Open House to showcase the work of four teams focusing on key elements of the community’s future:  access and connections, historic preservation and adaptive reuse, community development, and visitor experience.

Pullman AIA Charrette

Many of the ideas and concepts developed during the workshop will soon be put to use for a variety of planning efforts, including collaboration with the City of Chicago on enhancements to Pullman’s transportation infrastructure and integration with the National Park Service’s (NPS) park planning efforts.  The resulting designs should be available online within the next several months for continued discussion and refinement.

And following on from last month’s Foundation Planning Workshop, the NPS is also inviting comment from the public as they develop the management plan for the new Pullman National Monument.  Visit the NPS website to share your thoughts.

Over the past several years, thousands of National Trust members and friends have shown their support for this unique historic community.  As Pullman moves on to a new phase in its long and storied history, we hope you will remain involved – and stop by for a visit to Chicago’s first National Park!  Pullman has been one of Chicago’s best kept secrets for many years, but those days are numbered – the word is getting out, and big things are ahead for this National Treasure!  

Show your support for other National Treasures on our nation’s public lands, like the Painted Desert Community Complex and Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah.


Posted on April 03, 2015

Written by Jennifer Sandy, Project Manager

The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation just launched the Find Your Park initiative, a public awareness and education campaign celebrating the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016 and setting the stage for the next 100 years.

In this video, First Lady Michelle Obama shares her National Park story – including her family’s personal connection to Pullman National Monument!   Check it out, and then visit www.findyourpark.com to share your own National Park story!

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on March 27, 2015

Pullman one word NPS Foundation PlanningWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJSandy headshot

Chicago’s first National Park is already beginning to take shape, as a group of stakeholders met in Pullman this week to begin envisioning the Park’s fundamental purpose and goals.  The National Park Service facilitated a three-day Foundation Planning Workshop, hosted by the Pullman State Historic Site in beautiful Hotel Florence.

Over 50 participants spent three days talking about the new park’s fundamental purpose, significance, interpretation, resources, key partnerships, and next steps.  This will lay the groundwork for the Pullman National Monument Foundation Document, which will guide the park’s development in the coming years.

But you don’t have to wait that long to visit the new Park – thanks to staff from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, NPS rangers are already on-site at the Visitor Center, Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm.  Visit the Pullman National Monument website for more information.

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on February 19, 2015

Today, President Obama designated a portion of Chicago’s Pullman Historic District a National Monument, making it the Windy City’s first unit of the National Park Service. The move comes after decades of work by residents and supporters to protect and promote the historic neighborhood that sits 13 miles south of downtown Chicago.

You can get all the details in today’s blog post, or watch a video of the ceremony below. Either way, won’t you join us in thanking President Obama?

Congratulations, Pullman!

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work.

Posted on February 18, 2015

Thursday, February 19, the following ad will appear in the Chicago Tribune. Let us know if you spot it!

Posted on February 10, 2015

Written by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJsandy headshot

Pullman Administration BuildingGreat news – President Obama will visit Pullman Historic District next Thursday, February 19, in order to designate a portion of the neighborhood as a National Monument, according to White House officials!  Designation would culminate years of bipartisan efforts to recognize this nationally significant community on Chicago’s South Side and would be a huge “win” for this National Treasure.  Here’s some news coverage- stay tuned for more!

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-obama-pullman-national-monument-20150209-story.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/02/10/obama-to-make-chicagos-pullman-park-a-national-monument/

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

 


Posted on February 03, 2015

Written by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJsandy headshot

Pullman muralAn innovative partnership to bring new artist housing to the Pullman Historic District has received a grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.  Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, PullmanArts, and Artspace are collaborating on a design competition for new artist live/work space in the historic neighborhood.  

This is a great opportunity to continue Pullman’s long tradition of artistic creativity while revitalizing the neighborhood and designing sensitive infill structures. 

The overall goals of the project are to honor the history of Pullman, attract artists to live there, create a space that spurs creativity, and integrate the building(s) into the community. 

A Request for Qualifications has been sent out with a deadline of February 9.  Stay tuned to the PullmanArts Facebook page for project updates!

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on January 06, 2015

Written by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJSandy headshot

SMeeks in PullmanNow that everyone is getting back to work after the holiday season, we are still hopeful that President Obama will use the Antiquities Act to designate Pullman Historic District as a National Monument in the coming months.  Sixteen out of nineteen Presidents of both parties have used this authority to protect sites important to our American story since 1906. 

Unfortunately, recent efforts by Congress would impact the ability of President Obama or future presidents to utilize this critical conservation tool.  The National Trust has been working to defend the Antiquities Act since last spring.  

Protection of the Antiquities Act has bipartisan support in Congress, as made clear in a recent article by former Rep. John E. Porter (IL).  As he rightly points out, “With Congress unwilling or unable to advance conservation legislation, the Antiquities Act has become the only meaningful path forward to ensure timely protection of our natural and cultural heritage. Thus it comes as no surprise that supporters of legislation to establish a Pullman National Historic Park in Chicago are now calling on the president to act to see this site preserved, and its story told to future generations.”

Let’s hope the President hears our call and acts soon!  If you haven’t already, sign our petition to show your support! 

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on November 25, 2014

Pullmin Admin Building 1977Written by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJsandy headshot

Chicago’s Pullman Historic District is poised to become the next unit of the National Park System, but the designation date remains a mystery.  Recent news articles have indicated that President Obama may designate Pullman as a National Monument as early as Thanksgiving weekend, but we know better than to try to guess what the President is thinking! 

Regardless, we remain hopeful that designation will take place before the end of the year, and White House officials have been quoted saying that Pullman is next in line.  Most recently, President Obama has used the Antiquities Act to designate the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (Los Angeles) and the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument (Central Pacific Ocean).  Unfortunately, last spring the House of Representatives passed legislation that would curtail the President’s ability to designate new National Monuments by using the Antiquities Act. Since then, the National Trust has been working to defend the Antiquities Act, which has been used by 16 out of 19 Presidents since 1906 to either establish new national monuments or enlarge existing monuments for future generations to enjoy. 

The National Trust remains active in the campaign to encourage elected officials to recognize the rich social history and architectural beauty of Pullman by designating the neighborhood as the 402nd unit of the National Park System, and now have 3,066 signatures on our online petition.  A National Park at Pullman has strong support from the community and elected officials at every level, and we are keeping our fingers crossed for a Presidential visit to Chicago in the very near future!  

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on October 15, 2014

Pullman photo frameWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJsandy headshot

It was a beautiful weekend in the Pullman Historic District as over 1,500 people came out for the 41st Annual Historic Pullman House Tour.  National Trust staff were on hand with “Greetings from Pullman” postcards and photo frames, along with copies of Preservation Magazine and NTHP buttons.  We also gathered nearly 700 signatures on our petition to make Pullman a National Park.  The momentum for a National Park for Pullman continues to build!  

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on October 06, 2014

Pullman Arcade RowWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJsandy headshot

Join the National Trust this weekend at the 41st Annual Historic Pullman House Tour!  This is your opportunity to see inside eight private homes in the Pullman Historic District.  It’s a rare chance to experience the original housing in Pullman firsthand, including a range of housing types from executive homes to worker cottages. 

The National Trust will host a special reception at the Historic Pullman Center, one of the stops on the tour.  Come by and show your support for the Pullman Historic District becoming a unit of the National Park system!  And if you haven’t already, sign our petition of support.

What: The 41st Annual Historic Pullman House Tour

When: Saturday, October 11, and Sunday, October 12, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Where: The Pullman Historic District

Tickets for the tour are $17 in advance and can be purchased online (strongly recommended), or $20 at the door.

See you there!

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on September 08, 2014

Pullman House Tour 2014Written by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJsandy headshot

Earlier this month, we asked you to sign our petition calling for the Pullman Historic District to become a unit of the National Park system. The outpouring of support has been tremendous! Petition signatures and letters of support continue to pour in, and after a visit to Pullman last month, the Director of the National Park Service is fully supportive of park designation.

As our campaign kicks into full swing, we encourage you to come out to Pullman next month for one of the community’s biggest and most exciting events — the Annual Historic Pullman House Tour, co-sponsored by Pullman Civic Organization and Historic Pullman Foundation. The National Trust will have a special reception inside the Historic Pullman Center, offering visitors unique opportunities to learn more about the park designation and to show their support.

What: The 41st Annual Historic Pullman House Tour

When: Saturday, October 11, and Sunday, October 12, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Where: The Pullman Historic District

Tickets for the tour are $17 in advance and can be purchased online (strongly recommended), or $20 at the door.

Interested in volunteering? There are several opportunities available to help make the event a success. Please contact contact volunteer coordinator Michelle Parks using “House Tour Volunteer” as the subject line of your email.

We hope to see you there!

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on August 22, 2014

Pullman NPS public meetingWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerJSandy headshot

The excitement was palpable last night as a standing room only crowd chanted “402!” – calling for Pullman to become our nation’s 402nd National Park.  Over 350 people showed up to the public meeting hosted by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, along with the National Park Service, to gauge community support for making Pullman the next unit of the National Park System.  The response from the crowd was a resounding YES! 

Despite torrential downpours, supporters from across the community, city, and region came out to the meeting sporting “402” buttons and homemade signs, and many stepped up to the microphone to let NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis know that Pullman deserves National Park status. 

Speakers included U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, Alderman Anthony Beale, Illinois Historic Preservation Director Amy Martin, and Chicago Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Andrew Mooney.  Staff from Senator Durbin and Senator Kirk’s offices were also present and supportive, as were the many people and organizations that have been working for decades to protect and preserve Pullman’s history, including the Historic Pullman Foundation, Pullman Civic Organization, and the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.  

The meeting was capped off with a surprise visit from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who told the crowd that National Park status would be the ribbon around the package of a Pullman neighborhood that is on the rise, and gave his full support for the park effort. 

What can you do to show your support for Pullman as National Park number 402? Sign our petition calling for Pullman to become a unit of the National Park system!  Join the National Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, and hundreds of other organizations in support of making Pullman Chicago’s first National Park!

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on August 20, 2014


Pullman Factory Administration BuildingWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project Manager

JSandy headshotWe have some very exciting news to share: tomorrow, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, along with the National Park Service, will be holding a Public Meeting to gauge community support for making Pullman the next unit of the National Park System!

National Monuments can be established by either Congress or by the President. Through the Antiquities Act, the President has the ability to establish or expand the designation of National Monuments on federally-owned or controlled property to protect sites, objects, and landscapes of historic, cultural, or scientific interest. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt first used the act to declare Devil’s Tower in Wyoming as a National Monument, and ever since, Presidents of both parties have used their executive power to create pillars of the Park System like the Statue of Liberty, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, and the César E. Chávez National Monument.

Since his election, President Obama has created five new National Monuments as units of the National Park System, including Chimney Rock and Fort Monroe. With the stroke of a pen, he could do the same for the Pullman Historic District, making it our 402nd National Park!

We hope that you can attend the public meeting to voice your support. It will be held tomorrow, Thursday, August 21, from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the Pullman Administration Building/Clocktower (11111 S. Forrestville Avenue, Chicago, Illinois). No RSVP is required.

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on July 07, 2014

JSandy headshotWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerPullman row house Jane Baxter

Check out the new summer issue of Preservation Magazine -- Pullman Historic District is featured in the article “In Good Company: A coast-to-coast tour of company towns, America's twist on the feudal village.”   Many of Pullman’s long-time residents and supporters are featured in the article, which traces the community’s history from its founding as the country’s first planned model industrial town, through the labor unrest precipitated by George Pullman’s paternalistic governance, and into the twentieth century when grassroots activism saved the community from the wrecking ball.  This strong and vibrant community continues to protect and enhance Pullman today, with critical support and investment from the City of Chicago and State of Illinois.  The next step is achieving National Park status for Pullman – the focus of our National Treasure campaign. 

Show your support for the Pullman National Historical Park Act!  Contact your representatives in Congress to encourage them to support this bipartisan legislation, which has been introduced in the House and Senate.

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on June 23, 2014

JSandy headshotPullman Garden TourWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project Manager

Summer has finally arrived, and it’s a perfect time to visit Pullman!  This Saturday, June 28, is your chance to visit some of the community’s private gardens as part of the “Pullman Garden Walk – A Tea and Tour,” hosted by the Historic Pullman Garden Club and co-sponsored by the Historic Pullman Foundation and Pullman State Historic Site

Visitors can enjoy guided or self-guided walking tours of the historic district featuring public and private gardens, plus the district’s newest addition-- a community food garden.  One of the highlights is Gateway Garden, a partnership with NeighborSpace and the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which allowed the community to transform an empty lot into a haven for butterflies and bees. 

And you won’t go hungry -- tickets include a light tea with sandwiches and sweets.  You can reserve tickets for $12 in advance by emailing historicpullmangardens@gmail.com or purchase $15 tickets on the day of the event, which kicks off at the Historic Pullman Visitor Center, 11141 South Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago.  

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on May 15, 2014

Written by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerBeman Committee landmarks award May 2014JSandy headshot

Pullman residents take great pride in their neighborhood’s architectural character, so it’s no surprise that the Beman Committee of the Pullman Civic Organization has developed innovative ways to record and preserve that heritage.  Today I was delighted to join the Beman Committee as they were honored for one of those creative initiatives, the Façade Legacy Project, at the Chicago Landmark Awards.  At a ceremony in the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center this morning, the project was recognized with the Commission’s highest honor, the 2014 John Baird Award for Stewardship in Historic Preservation.

The Façade Legacy Project is a remarkable effort by the Beman Committee to document the original architectural details of every home in Pullman.  Considering there are over 600 homes in South Pullman alone, this has been quite an undertaking! 

Beman Committee members and volunteers spent several years documenting each home in South Pullman, meticulously researching the original façade details, and compiling this information into an easy-to-use online database for homeowners.  

As part of this project, the National Trust supported the creation of AutoCAD drawings of Pullman’s original façade, window, porch, and door styles with a grant from the Donnelly Preservation Fund, facilitating easy access to detailed measured drawings for all Pullman homeowners.  

This is just one more tool in the Beman Committee’s comprehensive arsenal of resources for Pullman residents, including an online Homeowner Guide and an annual Façade Reimbursement Program for historically-appropriate exterior repairs.  They plan to expand the Façade Legacy Project to North Pullman in the coming year, and hope to create a series of hands-on workshops for property owners to learn preservation-friendly repair techniques.

Congratulations to the Beman Committee and their army of volunteers and supporters for this well-deserved recognition! 

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on April 24, 2014

JSandy headshotWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project ManagerPullman group with signs

On this day, 134 years ago, George M. Pullman announced the location of his new town and factory, on prairie land 13 miles south of Chicago — an unprecedented undertaking that resulted in a lasting legacy for Pullman and his company, though perhaps not quite the way he envisioned.  The next day, April 25, 1880, the Chicago Tribune reported “this is the most important enterprise, as far as real estate goes, that Chicago has yet seen, and its effects will be great and lasting.”  How true that turned out to be!

Today, the town of Pullman is engaged in another “important enterprise” that will have a profound effect on the community and the City of Chicago.  Designation of the Pullman Historic District as the Pullman National Historical Park, as proposed by legislation in the House and Senate, would not only serve to recognize this community for its outsized contributions to American history, it would also have lasting impacts on the town of Pullman and adjacent South Side neighborhoods.  A National Historical Park would bring visitors to the community from across the country and the world, promote economic revitalization of the area, and shine a spotlight on this National Treasure. 

Contact your representative in support of the Pullman National Historical Park Act, and do something “great and lasting” for this unique community – let’s make Pullman Chicago’s first National Park!

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

 


Posted on March 24, 2014

JSandy headshot2Pullman Treasure Team tour Administration BuildingWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project Manager

March in Chicago can be fickle, but the sun was shining brightly last week when eight National Trust staff members spent the day exploring Pullman.  A major highlight was a tour of the Pullman State Historic Site, including the Hotel Florence—which is under renovation and not usually open to the public.  We explored the Administration Building and train sheds, admired the neighborhood’s row houses, and visited the Pullman Visitors Center.  We also toured some newly-rehabbed affordable housing in north Pullman. 

The National Trust team, including staff from our Chicago, Minneapolis, and Washington DC offices, were inspired by experiencing Pullman first-hand, and are beginning to brainstorm ways that we can support the community’s efforts to become Chicago’s first National Park.  We think more people should know about Pullman, and we want to help spread the word!

Hotel Florence, PullmanAfter touring the community and visiting with partners including the Beman Committee of the Pullman Civic Organization, Historic Pullman Foundation, Pullman Arts, National Parks Conservation Association, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, Landmarks Illinois, and our National Trust Advisors, we can’t wait to jump into this National Treasure campaign.  Send a message of support to your representatives in Congress today, and stay tuned!

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.


Posted on February 20, 2014

JSandy headshotPullman support sign NPCAWritten by Jennifer Sandy, Project Manager

The historic community of Pullman is one of Chicago’s best kept secrets, but maybe not for long.  Bipartisan legislation just introduced in the House and Senate would shine a spotlight on the Pullman Historic District by creating the Pullman National Historical Park, in recognition of the huge role this unique community has played in our nation’s history.  Neighborhood residents—along with a broad coalition of state and community leaders, elected officials, and preservation organizations—are united behind the goal of gaining national recognition for Pullman’s many contributions to our country’s history.

Not only would this result in Chicago’s first National Park unit, it would establish a national model for the ability of urban national parks to promote heritage tourism and encourage economic development.  It would also open up a National Park experience to millions of kids who might otherwise never visit one, thanks to Pullman’s accessibility via public transportation.  And a park designation could boost annual visitation, create more than 350 annual jobs, spur $15 million in wages, and sustain $40 million in economic activity over ten years, while helping to draw more attention and resources to this distinctive and dynamic neighborhood.

Please send a message to your representatives in Congress today, and ask for their support of the Pullman National Historical Park Act (S. 1962 and H.R. 3929).  Let’s make sure Pullman receives the recognition it deserves!

Please check back often for additional updates on Pullman Historic District. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on January 24, 2014

Pullman columns and window

Written by Jennifer Sandy, Project Manager

Walking down the leafy streets of the Pullman Historic District in Chicago today, it’s easy to imagine that this community must have seemed like a dream to the many factory workers for whom it was built. Tidy brick row houses line the sidewalks, ranging from modest worker cottages to more ornate mansions, while grand buildings like the Hotel Florence and the Greenstone Church provide a sense of community. Pullman was even voted as “The World’s Most Perfect Town” in its late-nineteenth-century heyday.

But the true story of Pullman is much more complicated -- and much more interesting -- than just its creation as America’s first model industrial town. The community has seen its share of challenges, but Pullman’s residents and supporters have always remained dedicated to protecting and promoting this special place. Now the community is united behind the goal of national recognition for Pullman’s contributions to our country’s history. Today, the National Trust joins the coalition advocating for Pullman to become a National Historical Park by including the community on our list of National Treasures -- an honor it truly deserves.

The town of Pullman was created from scratch out of 400 acres of Illinois prairie south of Chicago in 1880, when industrialist George Pullman decided to build a new manufacturing center for his Pullman Palace rail cars. He hoped to attract a happy, reliable workforce by offering a clean, safe living environment far from the overcrowded and vice-filled city.

His best idea was to provide good design to his tenants. He hired architect Solon S. Beman and landscape architect Nathan Barrett to design the town. The result is a cohesive community of red-brick buildings with Victorian flourishes, situated immediately adjacent to the north and south of the sprawling factory complex. (The town’s geography is reflected in its contemporary neighborhood names of North Pullman and South Pullman.)

Unfortunately, not all of Pullman’s notions were as successful. His brand of “corporate paternalism” began chafing the town’s residents almost from the beginning, as most aspects of residents’ lives were closely controlled by the company. According to Pullman State Historical Site archives, Pullman employees declared, “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.”

The situation came to a head in 1894 when, in response to an economic downturn, the company laid off workers and reduced wages without reducing the rent, leading to one of the most divisive labor strikes in American history. Rail workers across the country refused to service any train with a Pullman car, bringing most rail traffic west of Detroit to a standstill. When strikers refused to obey a federal order not to obstruct trains that carried mail cars, President Cleveland called in federal troops to help end the strike.

The workers’ strike was not successful, but we can thank the strikers for the creation of the Labor Day holiday, which was signed into law six days after the strike ended. In the aftermath, the Pullman company was ordered by the Illinois Supreme Court to sell the town’s residential buildings, and the town was eventually annexed by the City of Chicago.

Despite selling off the town, the Pullman Company continued to thrive into the 20th century, thanks in no small part to the legions of Pullman Porters across the country who worked the rails. At one point, the Pullman Company was the nation’s single largest employer of African-Americans. The Pullman Porters are credited with helping to develop a black middle class and contributing to the Great Migration by sharing northern newspapers in southern communities along the train lines.

History was made in 1937 when the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African-American union in the country, signed a major labor agreement with the Pullman Company, leading to better wages and hours for workers. Still, the town of Pullman remained largely segregated until after the passing of several key Civil Rights acts in the late 1960s, including the Fair Housing Act.

The decline of passenger rail travel in America led to many changes in Pullman, but the neighborhood has remained strong over the years. It banded together to fight off a proposal to demolish a number of buildings for an industrial park in 1960, achieved National Historic Landmark status in 1970, and got City of Chicago landmark status for South Pullman in 1972. The largely African-American community of North Pullman was added to the City of Chicago landmark district in 1993.

Despite losing several major factory and commercial buildings to fire, the Pullman community remains dedicated to preserving their history and telling their story. Efforts continue to document Beman’s unique and diverse architectural detailing, reclaim and affordably rehab vacant properties, and celebrate and share the community’s African-American history.

Indeed, the tight-knit and dynamic neighborhood is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets, and now there’s a buzz of excitement around Pullman as new economic development opportunities arise and long-time preservation efforts pay off. For example:

  • The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has invested over $26 million in the Pullman State Historic Site, restoring the exterior of the Administration Building and the historic Hotel Florence. Pullman is also part of the Governor’s Millennium Reserve, a collaborative and community-centered initiative to transform a 220-square-mile region in transition by focusing on natural and cultural assets.
  • The National Parks Conservation Association, working closely with neighborhood groups, has been building support for a National Park at Pullman. Community members understand the recognition and economic development opportunities this could mean for their neighborhood, and the idea has been endorsed by political leaders at the City and State level as well as by all major Chicago newspapers.
  • The City of Chicago has made Pullman one of its seven “Opportunity Planning Areas.” New investment in the greater Pullman area includes a new Method soap production plant and a rehabilitation of the former Pullman Wheelworks building into affordable housing. (The latter is a historic tax credit project by Mercy Housing Lakefront and National Housing Trust/Enterprise Preservation Corp.)
  • And today the legislation to make the park a reality has been introduced by Illinois Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Representative Kelly.

The momentum is building, and the National Trust is proud to be part of this important work! Join us as we shine a spotlight on Pullman and its many stories in the year ahead.

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Linda Yates on January 28, 2014
Growing up in Roseland, Pullman was definitely a huge part of my childhood. I only have the best memories there. Great people who looked out for each other from all parts of the world.
Matt Cole on January 24, 2014
Chicago, for me, is a community of neighborhoods and when people ask me about special places in the city, Pullman is always one of the neighborhoods at the top of the list. There is certainly great architecture to see, but also a diverse mix of people and stories – past and present – that truly bring Pullman life. Pullman certainly has its challenges, but walking through the neighborhood one can certainly see its potential to be a vibrant, beautiful, and equitable anchor for the South Side. Pullman’s designation as a National Historic Park can only speed this process.
Denise Ryan on January 24, 2014
With Chicago’s diverse and rich history, it is long overdue for recognition and representation in the nearly 100 year old National Park System. With the establishment of Pullman National Historical Park, Chicago will join national parks in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, and San Francisco.
Jennifer on January 24, 2014
Pullman is a beautiful community with so many stories to tell. Making it Chicago’s first National Park would bring more recognition and economic development opportunities to one of the city’s hidden gems.

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