By PATRICIA SZPEKOWSKI
Chicago is a city of many unique neighborhoods reflecting the diversity of its residents. Each one has its own identity and a unique name, such as Hyde Park, Wrigleyville, the Gold Coast, Chinatown, and Back of the Yards.
Another highly regarded community, the Pullman Historic District, is located on the far South Side of the city. This multi-cultural and vibrant neighborhood is steeped in Chicago’s rich cultural history and has achieved a hallmark significant status. In 2015, President Barack Obama returned to the city he called home and officially declared the Pullman neighborhood’s historic district as a U.S. National Monument — a first recognition of its kind in Chicago. With its designation as the Pullman National Monument District, it has become a part of the National Park System.
To understand the significance the Pullman Historic District has had on our nation’s history, here’s a look back to the beginnings of this unique neighborhood.
The City of Chicago was founded in 1830 and following the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871, the city began to rebuild and expand at a rapid rate. It produced many business legends and tycoons who are known far and wide, such as Potter Palmer, Philip Armour, Marshall Field, Frank Winfield Woolworth, and Aaron Montgomery Ward.
George M. Pullman, an engineer and industrialist, is also on that list and is regarded as one of Chicago’s most notorious entrepreneurs and innovators in its early history. Born in Brockton, New York, Pullman moved to Chicago and he built a burgeoning career.
He created the Pullman Palace Car Company, which manufactured railroad sleeping cars, during the boom time of railroads in the United States. To build his company and attract skilled workers, Pullman devised a model town for his workers, the first of its kind in the nation. In 1880 with wide open spaces and prairie as a blank canvas to build, construction of his Pullman community began. It was located near big city markets of the day and, importantly, the railroad connections which spread from Chicago and throughout the entire country.
The project, which was one of the first applications of industrial technology and mass construction of a large-scale community, consisted of an assortment of over 1,000 different homes, row houses, and public buildings. This model neighborhood was to yield the Pullman company greater productivity. Employees were housed in dwellings that provided gas and water, access to sanitary facilities, abundant sunlight and fresh air. These amenities were to boost better health, morale, and an exclusive working environment; a formula for success.
Many of the Pullman homes still stand today and Pullman residents open their homes to the public in October every year. The 45th Annual Pullman House Tour, sponsored by the Pullman Civic Organization and the Historic Pullman Foundation, will feature seven homes on Friday, October 6 and Saturday, October 7, 2018 from 11:00am to 5:00pm.
These 120-year old landmark homes epitomize the history and charm of the Pullman experience. The homes represent the cross section of the different types of housing in Pullman and the many distinctive ways in which homeowners have blended the past with the present through restored interiors and tasteful modern renovations.
The announcement of Pullman’s landmark status has increased the confidence of the community in its stability and growth. Several companies have invested in the area unveiling new manufacturing plants resulting in economic revitalization in the neighborhood.
Method, a pioneer of premium plant-friendly and design-driven home, fabric, and personal care products, chose the Pullman neighborhood for its first manufacturing facility. Designed by William McDonough + Partners and built in 2015, this state-of-the-art factory is the world’s first and only LEED Platinum certified manufacturing plant in its industry. It features a refurbished wind turbine, solar panel installations, large amounts of natural light throughout the factory, and native land renewal across its 22 acres.
During the same year, the local produce brand and urban ag pioneer, Gotham Greens, opened its largest and most technologically advanced greenhouse to date on top of Method’s soap factory. Gotham Greens’ 2-acre rooftop greenhouse represents the ‘World’s largest rooftop farm’ and spans 75,000 square-feet. The facility runs o of 100% renewable electricity and uses 90% less water than traditional farms while producing more than 10 million heads of leafy greens and herbs year-round for local restaurants and retailers.
Something else is brewing in the area! The father and son team of Bob and Patrick Jensen of Argus Brewery have carefully brewed premium crafted beers, such as English, German, British, and Polish style lagers, pilsners, and ales. The brewery is housed in the historic Joseph E. Schlitz location, which dates back to the early 1900s.
Argus Brewery prides itself on being a good neighbor and highlights green initiatives to reduce energy and waste by exploring the use of solar collectors to heat the water for the brewing process. 90 minute pre-scheduled brewery tours are offered to the public, which include samples of the latest Argus brews in a commemorative pint glass.
Area residents are looking forward to the fall opening of a new sprawling 135,000 square-foot community center in the Pullman and adjoining Roseland neighborhoods. It will offer year-round sports with three indoor playing fields and surfaces for basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball, and football. There will be flexible space for educational and cultural programming, community events, exhibitions, classrooms, and tournaments. This $20 million center will be the largest such facility of its kind in Illinois. It will annually employ as many as 100 full- and part-time employees, seasonal employees, coaches, instructors, and management.
Visit the vibrant and active Pullman neighborhood at your own pace with self-guided walking tours. Guided tours are available to the public on the first Sunday of the month from May to October. The Pullman National Monument Information Center is open Tuesday through Sunday and closed on Monday.
Jeanne Schulman serves as the group tour coordinator. Four generations of her family have lived in this community. “Even though we are in Chicago, there’s a small town feel here,” she said. “To me, it’s all about the people. My father was known as ‘Big Strong John the Blacksmith’ for over 25 years.”
For those living and working in the area, the neighborhood is composed of a microcosm of economically, socially, and racially diverse people. It’s a place that melds pride of the past and present and looks to a future filled with promise.
In 1894, the Pullman Strike changed history by protecting and advancing workers’ rights and ushering in unionization across the U.S. When the Pullman Company refused to listen to workers’ grievances, there was a massive employee boycott. The American Railway Union and its leader, Eugene Debs, became involved by boycotting Pullman cars and refusing to move them on the rails. It resulted in a showdown.
As rail service and the movement of U.S. mail was disrupted, an injunction — the first in U.S. history — against the Union was made by President Grover Cleveland. Federal troops were sent to end the strike and Debs was sent to jail for violating the injunction. When the dust settled, a new era of minimum wage and overtime pay was established. Cleveland also named a new national holiday, Labor Day, to honor the American worker.