For a taste of rich history, head to Chicago’s South Side (111th Street and I-94 South), where you’ll stumble upon the quaint Pullman neighborhood. This historic district was the brainchild of George Pullman, president of Pullman’s Palace Car Company, who developed his luxury railroad car factory on the land in the 1860s, according to the Chicago Historical Society. He built a 300-acre town across the street, where he housed company executives, skilled workers and their families in more than 1,000 homes.
During its heyday, in the late 1800s, Pullman was a self-sustaining town with its own post office, stores, church, hotel, stables and school. By 1970, Pullman became a National Historic Landmark district, and this year, Pullman is up for consideration to become a national park by the National Parks Conservation Association.
There is much that makes Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood historic, but we’ve gathered five highlights so you can catch a glimpse of why this district — in the process of renovation — has met landmark status.
Traveling by train was the main mode of transportation after the Civil War, and Pullman created a train car that was comfortable — equipped with soft, clean beds and pillows, red plush upholstery, and etched, hand-painted wood interiors, according to Midcontinent.org. Not only were Pullman’s trains cutting edge, the factory was as well, with assembly-line methods, light, cheerful paint colors, many windows and skylights, proper ventilation, and a park and landscaped lake in the factory’s front yard, according to the Pullman State Historic Site. Some of the factory site remains today, but much of it, along with the 12-story clock tower, was set on fire by an arsonist in 1998, according to USA Today. Now, it used for tours and as an urban garden for Pullman residents.
This epic, four-story Victorian hotel, named after Pullman’s daughter, was built in 1881 with 50 sleeping rooms, a dining room, billiard room, barber shop and the only bar in town, according to the Pullman Historic Foundation. At a cost of about $130,000 to build and furnish, its look is more like a vast mansion than a hotel. In 1975, the Historic Pullman Foundation bought the Hotel Florence in hopes of renovating it. In 1991, it was sold to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, and over the past few years has undergone more than $3 million in renovations to the restore the historic site.
You’ll know this church by its unique green stone, called serpentine stone, which was quarried in Pennsylvania and transported to Chicago. Presbyterians occupied the church by 1887, but in 1907 the Methodists took it over and still occupy the building today. Inside the church is the impressive manual tracker pipe organ, built in 1882 with 1,260 pipes — it’s one of the few organs of its kind remaining in the U.S., according to the Historic Pullman Foundation.
For a glimpse into the past, check out Pullman’s 900 historic homes running from 103rd Street south to 115th Street. From executive mansions, located closer to the factory, to smaller workers’ cottages, all were designed by architect Solon S. Beman, according to the Pullman Civic Organization. The iconic brick and “Pullman green” color are threaded throughout the Queen Anne-style homes. To take a peek inside some historic homes at the annual house tour in October.
Though the Pullman neighborhood has always been lush with foliage, today the area has a slew of urban gardens. Residents of Pullman have an organic community garden, with their own 40-square-foot raised beds, called Pullman Urban Gardens, located on the site of the old Pullman Palace Car Factory. In this same site, you’ll find the Pullman Beekeepers, who tend almost a dozen active colonies of bees.
The Cooperation Operation, also known as the Co-op Op, is a group on the southeast side of Chicago that has developed an urban garden on the edge of Pullman. The 2.5-acre garden has a collection of elevated beds — some made out of reclaimed boats — for their crops, along with a small greenhouse. The nonprofit doesn’t sell its produce; instead, it gives it to the community.
Although it’s not yet known whether Pullman will become the next national park, one thing is clear — Pullman is a haven of history. To learn more about this Chicago landmark, take a free, hourlong tour of the neighborhood at 11:30 a.m. on the first and third Sunday of the month from May to early November, according to the Pullman State Historic Site. Tour stops include the interior and exterior of the factory, along with the Pullman Urban Gardens. Meet near the factory gates on 111th St. (610 E. 111th St.). Parking is available across the street, where you’ll also see the Metra’s line 111th Street stop.