Posted by Kevin Keefe, Trains Magazine

Even if you don’t know the history, you know you’ve arrived somewhere special as you drive east on 111thStreet on Chicago’s south side, duck under the tracks of Metra’s Electric District, and suddenly encounter one of the gems of American architecture and urban planning.

Welcome to Pullman, the one-time home of the Pullman Palace Car Co., its famous company town, and today the site of an exciting urban revival. 

Pullman has been a lot of things over its nearly 150-year existence: monument to founder George M. Pullman, so-called model employee town, crux of national labor strife, and, not incidentally, a bold attempt at integrated manufacturing on a grand scale. At its peak before the turn of the century, the town was home to thousands of Pullman employees living in hundreds of row houses built by the company, surrounded by the shop floors upon which they labored.

Pullman was declared a National Historic District in 1970 and later achieved landmark status with both the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois, all adding up to what might be the neighborhood’s crowning achievement, its designation in 2015 as a National Monument, making it part of the National Parks system.

George M. Pullman. Classic Trains collectionAll this success was generally the theme a couple of weeks ago during a luncheon and tour for community and railroad leaders, sponsored by the Historic Pullman Foundation and designed to promote a number of exciting developments in the neighborhood. The entire Pullman district is actually a patchwork of sections variously administered by the Foundation, the state of Illinois, and the National Parks. This unusual partnership seems to work well. 

Our host was Joe Szabo, a Chicagoan whose long list of railroad career achievements (trainman on Illinois Central, United Transportation Union legislative director, head of the Federal Railroad Administration) helped prepare him for his current position as the Foundation’s president. 

For Szabo, the story of Pullman is an indispensable part of a larger, national narrative.

“America’s stories live in Pullman,” Szabo told me. “Whether it is how Pullman transformed railroad transportation at a time when railroads were transforming America; the impact that Pullman’s ‘perfect town’ had on urban planning thought and the development of communities; the 1894 strike’s prominence in labor history; or the roll of the Pullman porters in serving as the foundation of the civil rights movement, these are the stories of the American experience. And they remain relevant today.”

We could see just how relevant by walking around Pullman. Its deep red brick buildings were awash in warm October light, the neighborhood studded with the creations of Solon Spencer Beman, a major architect in late 19th-century Chicago. Sadly, some of Beman’s greatest buildings — including Chicago’s Grand Central Station and Milwaukee’s Pabst Building — were destroyed.

Visitors Center, formerly the Pullman Administration Building, now fully restored. Historic Pullman Foundation photoBut his work lives on in Pullman, most prominently with the ornate Administration Building, now serving as the Visitors Center and headquarters for the Foundation. Topped off by a four-sided clock tower, the Romanesque Revival building houses the Foundation’s first-rate museum, which offers an engrossing view of the complicated and often contradictory history of Pullman the man and Pullman the town. More on that in a moment.

There’s more going on just outside the Visitors Center: restoration of the North Factory Wing, which extends from the Visitor Center and will be a future site of industrial exhibits, eventually to include actual Pullman cars; the famed Hotel Florence, featured prominently in the movie “Road to Perdition” and well on its way toward a reopening; the Greenstone Church, glowing in its serpentine limestone facade and still active as a United Methodist church; and, of course, blocks and blocks of stand-alone and row houses, now privately owned and many of them lovingly refurbished according to strict district preservation rules.

The excitement extends beyond the borders of the historic district. Aware of the growing interest around Pullman, Metra has embarked on a dramatic upgrade of its 111th Street station, to include a climate-controlled station entrance, new platforms, and architectural details that echo the Pullman esthetic.

Our walking tour was led by Ranger Sarah Buchmeier, who, like all NPS rangers I’ve encountered over the years, impressed me with her enthusiasm and knowledge. Pullman’s history is fraught, its status as a pioneering American industrial concern overshadowed by the labor troubles that culminated in that bloody 1894 strike. The town of Pullman had its downside. As historian John H. White, Jr., has written: “Many of the residents were less enthusiastic. They found life in Pullman limited, undemocratic, and puritanical.”

My impression is that the full story of Pullman is being told forthrightly, both in the illuminating exhibits inside the museum and by passionate advocates such as Buchmeier. I hope all the parties dedicated to preserving Pullman — the Foundation, the state, NPS — continue to expand on that narrative.

Meanwhile, kudos to Joe Szabo for making Pullman a personal crusade. “I knew that I wanted Pullman to be the cornerstone of my retirement,” he says. “I got my start in local government as a member of the local plan commission and retired as head of our regional planning agency. As a former train conductor and labor leader, the stories of Pullman personally resonate with me.”

As they will for anyone who makes that same drive along 111th Street. 

The Historical Pullman Foundation deserves your support. You can find out more by visiting its website:

Historic Pullman Foundation is proud to announce that we, in partnership with the National Park Service, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, National Park Foundation, and Positioning Pullman Project Team, have won a 2022 Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for rehabilitation! HPF is grateful for the efforts of all who have worked tirelessly over the years to preserve Pullman’s structures and stories. Learn more at Landmarks Illinois’ website, and help us celebrate at the 2022 awards ceremony in Chicago on November 4!

Find the full press release here.

Experience the “RAILROADERS: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography” exhibition, organized by Center for Railroad Photography & Art and Chicago History Museum, opening in the renovated Pullman Exhibit Hall (formerly the shared Visitor Center). The exhibition is a striking visual exploration of the hard work and heroism of railway workers in the yard, on the trains and in the station during World War II and is accompanied by thoughtful biographies and interactive elements.

The RAILROADERS exhibit will run throughout the rest of the year. Please see hours and admission information below. Call Historic Pullman Foundation at 773.785.8901 if you have any questions.

Please note our closed holiday hours this year: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day.

Pullman Exhibit Hall hours

Tuesday through Sunday, 11am – 3pm

Admission cost

$10 for adults

$5 for children under 12

Admission is free for Historic Pullman Foundation members

Historic Pullman Foundation’s May 14-15 celebration will take place at Pullman National Monument

Find the full press release

Historic Pullman Foundation (HPF) is thrilled to host its upcoming event Pullman Railroad Days: People, Progress & Innovation on Saturday, May 14 and Sunday, May 15 at Pullman National Monument.

In partnership with Metra, visitors will be able to explore four historic Pullman Cars from different eras at the 111th Street/Pullman Metra Electric station over the weekend. Included are the 1923 New York Central 3, the 1914 Francis L. Suter, the 1950 Royal Street Observation car, and the final passenger car built by the Pullman-Standard Company in 1981, Amtrak’s George M. Pullman. Saturday only: HPF will feature a Model A car club.

“We are excited and honored to once again host these historic railroad cars at our station that bears the Pullman name,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “And we’d like to remind everyone that the Metra Electric Line is the fastest and most affordable way to get to Pullman National Monument.”

Attendees will also have first access to the grand opening of “RAILROADERS: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography” exhibition, organized by the Center for Railroad Photography and Art and Chicago History Museum, opening in the renovated Pullman Exhibit Hall (formerly the shared Visitor Center). The exhibition is a striking visual exploration of the hard work and heroism of railway workers in the yards, on the trains and in the station during World War II and is accompanied by thoughtful biographies and interactive elements. Sunday only: join HPF for Bon French’s Speaker Series event exploring Jack Delano’s historic photographs.

Through a virtual reality experience, hosted by Norfolk Southern, visitors will be able to pop on a pair of VR goggles and see how advanced technology fuels America’s freight railroads. Plus, using a locomotive simulator, learn what skills it takes to operate a railroad locomotive.

With guided tours of the historic Factory Site, Hotel Florence, the neighborhood, and food and entertainment, there will be something for everyone at Pullman Railroad Days. 

“The stories of Pullman are the stories of the American experience,” said Joseph C. Szabo, President of Historic Pullman Foundation. “Pullman Railroad Days is a wonderful opportunity to showcase America’s history of railroad innovation and its stories that remind us why Pullman is so special.”

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin has announced that Historic Pullman Foundation (HPF) will receive $300,000 toward the stabilization and rehabilitation of Market Hall, one of the historic structures within Pullman National Monument, National Park Service (PNM).

The funding is part of the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus appropriations bill passed last week by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Joe Biden.
“This appropriations package invests in the future of Illinois,” Durbin said. “The use of Congressionally directed spending provides Members of Congress, who know their states and districts better than federal agency personnel in Washington, with the ability to direct federal funding to priority projects in their communities.” You can read the senator’s press release here.

“We thank Senator Durbin for his partnership and look forward to launching a process for engaging the community as we embark on the stabilization effort and envision how market hall fits the interpretive needs of Pullman National Monument,” said HPF President Joseph C. Szabo.

An essential defining building of the Pullman neighborhood, Market Hall is in critical need of stabilization, preservation, and new construction to return it to productive use by residents and visitors to PNM – Chicago’s only national park. In 2021, HPF became PNM’s official nonprofit partner.

Starting in 1881, Market Hall served as a public market and gathering space at 112th Street and Champlain Avenue for nearly a century. Fire destroyed the original Market Hall structure in 1892. The 3-story replacement building was damaged by two fires – one in 1931 and another in 1973 – leaving it a roofless 1-story structure. HPF purchased it in 1974 to save it from demolition and has maintained the property ever since.

“Action must be taken now to stabilize Market Hall and safeguard it from further deterioration,” said Szabo. “Market Hall is a unique cultural asset and its preservation is essential to enhance PNM visitors’ understanding of its social relevance within the town of #Pullman’s original design.”

The image of a woman in a red headscarf and blue shirt flexing her right arm under the slogan, “We Can Do it” has been a cultural icon in the United States for 80 years. Created in 1942 by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller, it was featured on a poster for Westinghouse Electric corporation, then used by the U.S. government during World War II. The image aimed to inspire and celebrate the more than 6 million American women who joined the workforce to replace men who enlisted in the armed forces.

While Miller’s “Rosie” was a fictional rendering, a real “Rosie” worked for the Pullman Company during World War II. Rose Szczerbiak was a Ukrainian-American woman born and raised on Langley Avenue in Pullman.

“I distinctly remember walking to 111th Street and Champlain as a child,” said her niece, Marilyn Gartelmann Quiroz. “We would wait for her to exit the turn styles at the entrance of the plant.” During World War II, Szczerbiak worked in the factory, cleaning out the inside of shells with steel-wool and making artillery for the U.S. Government. At the time, the government contracted with the Pullman Company to create a variety of materials for the defense industry.

Rose Helen Szczerbiak was born on January 5, 1922, in the Pullman Blockhouse at 11315 S. Langley Avenue (then Fulton Avenue) to Ukrainian immigrants Michael Szczerbiak and Mary Opaluch Szczerbiak. She later married Harry Barlog, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II near Okinawa.

Rose retired from the Pullman after the war and the entire family moved to Chicago Heights in 1957. They had three children: Robert, William and Nancy. “She was a wonderful cook and a loving mother,” said her son, Robert Barlog. “She always had a smile on her face.”

Her family recently uncovered two photos of Rose during her time working at the Pullman Company, one standing in her uniform along 112th Street and Langley Avenue and another with her colleagues inside the plant (Rose is middle row, second from the right). Rose Szczerbiak Barlog passed away on October 21, 1993 at age 71.

This “Women’s History Month,” we salute the thousands of women who worked for the Pullman Company during World War II, including our own “Rosie the Riveter.”

Watch Rose’s YouTube story here