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A Tour of Historic Pullman, Chicago’s First National Monument

A visit to the Historic Pullman neighborhood, Chicago’s first National Monument, is like a walk back in time. Established by George M. Pullman, the historical town was built between 1880 and 1884 on 4,000 acres of open land. It was one of the nation’s first company towns.

Historic Pullman, located 12 miles from downtown Chicago is rich with history. In addition to gaining national recognition as the “World’s Most Perfect Town,” only a few years after establishment, it played an important role in labor reform and the Civil Rights movement.

President Barack Obama declared Historic Pullman District a national monument in 2015.

George M. Pullman Founder of Pullman

Black and white photos of George Pullman founder of Pullman, Illinois

Pullman, a native of Brocton, New York, moved to Chicago in the 1850s. In 1859 he designed his first rail car to improve trains’ sleeping accommodations after many uncomfortable cross-country rides. He gained fame after, The Pioneer, his plush, luxurious rail car, was attached to the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train in 1865.

Information plaque about Arcade Park and Pullman Stables

Pullman’s Palace Car Company grew to manufacture in 4 cities during the 1870s. The company leased sleeping cars, dining cars, parlor cars, and drawing room cars to railroads, even providing Pullman staff to ensure top quality service. His lucrative company grew to be one of the largest corporations in the nation. He hired thousands of African Americans, many former slaves, to work on the rail cars. They were called Pullman Porters.

Mural depicting workers in Pullman, Illinois
Interpretations of Pullman Mural, 11141 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Town of Pullman

Pullman tasked architect Solon S. Beman with designing the town and factory complex. It provided superior amenities such as parks, stores, churches, schools, banks, libraries, health services, recreation, and cultural facilities.

skylight in home in historic pullman
Original Skylight Shaft, part of the passive ventilation system

The homes, predominantly row houses, all had indoor plumbing and gas lighting.  Pullman was among the first towns to have separate sanitation and storm sewer systems. 

Original Fireplace in Historic Pullman Home

The housing reflected the workforce’s social hierarchy with executive homes, lining 111th St. and 112th St., built nearest to the factory. Cottages and flats were available for families and rooming houses for single men. By 1892 there were more than 1,740 units in the town.

Market Square Apartments

The town embodied Pullman’s concept of a well-planned, healthful environment for his workers to improve the quality of life. The Pullman company maintained everything within the community, including its fire station.

two women taking Historic Pullman home tour
Historic Pullman House Tour

A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

10406 S. Maryland Ave.

The town had everything to make life easier for many but not all of Pullman’s employees. Although much of Pullman’s success was due to the African American porters who worked on his train cars, these African American workers weren’t allowed to live in Pullman’s Town. Many settled in the Chicago community, now known as Bronzeville. Their story’s told at the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum exterior
Pullman Porter Museum

The African Americans employed by Pullman were overworked, underpaid, and demeaned. Under the leadership of civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph, the porters organized and fought for their labor rights against the Pullman Company. In 1925 they formed the first successful trade union for African American railroad porters when most Blacks weren’t allowed membership in established white unions. The Brotherhood of the Sleeping Cars union dramatically changed their lives and those who followed, leading to respect, improved wages and working conditions, and recognition for their labor.

Visiting Historic Pullman

The Pullman Historic District is unique with its original buildings covering 21 blocks and comprising one of the largest collections of 19th-century row houses in Chicago. Most of the 900 row homes are two or three stories in height, with brick construction and limestone foundations.

It’s a great neighborhood for a walking tour, here are a few notable places!

National Monument Information Center

11141 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

The Pullman Visitor Center features a Pullman memorabilia collection and a video presentation with a historical overview of the community.

1884 Skilled Craftsman Cottage

11243 South Forrestville Ave.

Craftsman Row house in Pullman

1883 Skilled Craftsman Row House

11239 S. St. Lawrence Ave.

Craftsman Row House in Historic Pullman

1882 Executive Row House

527 East 112th St.

Exterior of Executive Row House in Pullman

1888 Multi-Family Workers’ Apartments

11405-07 S. Champlain Ave.

Brick Multi-Family workers' apartment in Pullman

Thomas Dunbar House: 1880 Pullman Executive Home

641 East 111th St.

Brick Executive home in Pullman

Greenstone Church, 1882

11211 S. St. Lawrence Ave.

Green brick church in Historic Pullman

Market Hall, 1892

112th & Champlain Ave.

Remnants of Market Hall in Historic Pullman

Where to Eat in Historic Pullman

After your tour of Historic Pullman, stop in at One Eleven Food Hall for a bite to eat from one of the three restaurants inside. Diners can choose from barbecue and soul food, vegan cuisine, and lattes and pastries.

Lexington Betty Smokehouse

Lexington Betty Smokehouse offers various smoked meats, including rib tips, chicken, pulled pork, house-made andouille sausage, and brisket served with soul food sides.

Andy Sunflower Café

Try one of Andy’s specialty coffee drinks, teas, or pastries. I recommend the lavender latte, yum!

Lavender latte with whipped cream

Majani Soulful Vegan Cuisine

A fast casual vegan restaurant serving southern cuisine.

interior of vegan soul food restaurant

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