The Town of Pullman
The model industrial town of Pullman, Illinois had its beginning on May 26, 1880, in the open prairie. This town was the physical expression of an idea born and nurtured in the mind of George M. Pullman, President of Pullman's Palace Car Company.
He decided to develop a model community, a total environment, superior to that available to the working class elsewhere. By so doing, he hoped to avoid strikes, attract the most skilled workers and attain greater productivity as a result of the better health, environment and spirit of his employees.
Pullman realized the necessity of building his town so it would have accessibility to the big city markets and railroad connections throughout the entire country. The 4,000-acre tract selected for the site lay along the western shore of Lake Calumet, approximately 13 miles directly south of Chicago. It was essentially open prairie and marsh land linked to Chicago and the southern states by the Illinois Central Railroad and to the world by Lake Calumet’s connection to Lake Michigan and the St. Lawrence River.
George Pullman hired Solon S. Beman, landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett and civil engineer, Benzette Williams, to translate his plans into three-dimensional reality.
Construction of the town was executed by Pullman employees. Structures were made of brick, fashioned from clay found in Lake Calumet, at a brickyard built south of the town for this purpose. Pullman shops produced component parts used throughout the building of the town. This project was one of the first applications of industrial technology and mass production in the construction of a large-scale housing development. The town of over 1,000 homes and public buildings was completed by 1884, less than four years later.
Each dwelling was provided with gas and water, access to complete sanitary facilities and abundant quantities of sunlight and fresh air. Front and back yards provided personal green space, while expansive parks and open lands provided larger, shared ones. Maintenance of the residences was included in the rental prices, as was daily garbage pickup.
These factors brought Pullman to be voted the world's most perfect town at the Prague International Hygienic and Pharmaceutical Exposition of 1896.
In 1960 , the area was threatened with demolition for the construction of an industrial park near the newly constructed Lake Calumet shipping port. Knowledgeable and well-versed on the history of their neighborhood, residents galvanized to protest the demolition From this, the Pullman Civic Organization was formed. The residents were able to successfully halt the construction on the industrial park and saved the town of Pullman from being only a page of history, bringing Pullman into its next chapter.
A small group of residents formed the Beman Committee, a part of the Pullman Civic Organization, focused on the preservation of the architecture of the original town. Through their efforts, the Town of Pullman was designated an Illinois Historic District in 1969, a National Historic Landmark District in 1970 and in 1972, the southern part of the District was designated as one of the first landmark districts by the City of Chicago. More recently, the City of Chicago amended the historic district boundaries to include both the northern and southern parts of the District.
Then, in 1973, the Historic Pullman Foundation was formed, with a mission of expanding on the preservation efforts already started and involving greater resources from outside the community.
In 1975, when the Hotel Florence and all of its original furniture and fixtures was in jeopardy of being sold off at auction, the Foundation took action and, with the help of George Pullman’s grand-daughter, Florence Lowden Miller, was able to purchase the Hotel and all of its contents. They then spent the next 25 years working to restore the building and keep it open to the public.
Since 1973 the Historic Pullman Foundation has acquired several other of the town's architectural gems: the Market Hall, the Historic Pullman Center, and the Historic Pullman Foundation Visitor Center, which sits on the site of the original Arcade Building.
In 1991, the state of Illinois purchased the Hotel Florence and the Pullman Factory Clock Tower and Administration buildings under the auspices of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) for the development of the Pullman State Historic Site. Extensive preservation and restoration work by IHPA began on the Hotel and Factory site in 2000 and continues today.
The Pullman district also benefits from a diverse and proud residential community. Some residents came to Pullman with an interest in its history. Some with interests in the preservation efforts and working on renovating their own home. Some are long-time family residents, going back as far as five generations living in Pullman. But all appreciate the deep sense of community that we all share.
Pullman Foundation - a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
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