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.
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 or prices in company-owned stores, 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.
- 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
Help us create the Pullman National Historical Park—Urge your Members of Congress to Support New Legislation Today!
Donate to our campaign to make Pullman part of the National Park System.
Written 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!
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.
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.