Pullman, Illinois – A Model Company Town

Pullman, Illinois - A Company Town

Pullman, Illinois – A Company Town

Pullman, Illinois, developed in the 1880s just outside the Chicago city limits, was one of the largest and most substantial early company towns in the United States. Entirely company-owned, the town provided housing, stores, a library, churches, and entertainment for 6,000 company employees and many dependents.

George Pullman

George Pullman

The town was developed by George Mortimer Pullman, an American engineer, and industrialist who designed and manufactured the Pullman sleeper and luxury rail cars.

After the United States experienced the Great Railroad Strike in 1877, its legacy included more powerful unions and a tendency for employers to consider the broader well-being of their employees. Pullman’s objective in building a company town was to attract a superior type of employee and further elevate these individuals by excluding adverse influences.

Demand for Pullman cars and a growing workforce led Pullman to the development of his company town. In late April 1880, George Pullman announced his plans to build the town and new factory. The Pullman Palace Car Company purchased 4,000 acres of undeveloped prairie land in the Village of Hyde Park. It was 14 miles south of Chicago between Lake Calumet and the Illinois Central rail line south of Chicago. Architect Solon Spencer Beman and Landscape Architect Nathan Barret were hired to design the town’s layout, buildings, and factories. Desiring buildings that would be both practical and aesthetically pleasing, the homes were designed in a simple yet elegant Queen Anne style. Buildings that housed shops and services included Romanesque arches. The town’s layout was planned to include Arcade Park and Lake Vista in a curvilinear fashion to avoid monotony.

Groundbreaking for the “first all-brick city” began on April 24, 1880, and work proceeded at a furious pace, with over 100 railroad supply cars unloaded per week over the summer. By fall, several factory shops were completed to refine the building materials that included painting, iron, woodworking, and a brickyard was built south of the site. The brick was manufactured from clay found on the site. These shops would be employed to contribute to continuing construction.

Pullman Car

Pullman Car

By January 1, 1881, the town was ready for its first resident and Lee Benson, a foreman from the Pullman Company’s Detroit, Michigan shop, moved his wife, child, and sister into the new company town. Soon other residents began moving into the dwellings. Housing for workers was separated from the industrial areas. It was primarily comprised of row houses erected in long blocks but with a great variety of floor areas, detailing, and elevations. Some apartment structures, duplex buildings, and a few single-family houses were also built. All dwellings included gas, running water, indoor plumbing, sewers, and regular garbage removal.

Building exteriors were red brick with limestone trim. Interiors featured high ceilings and large windows. Interior walls were purposefully painted in light colors to provide a cheerful environment. The town’s streets were paved, and these were swept and watered daily, and the sewage from the town was converted into fertilizer and sold at a profit. These features, along with the relative spaciousness of the homes, placed Pullman’s accommodations well above the standards of the day.

Two rooms in the cheaper apartment buildings built for the lower-income workers were rented for $4.00 a month, and the two-story rowhouses from $14.00 to $100.00 a month. Rent for dwellings was deducted from employees’ paychecks. The rent charged for the buildings was planned to ensure a six percent return on the company’s investment. He also established behavioral standards that workers had to meet to live in the area. Employees were not required to live in Pullman, although workers tended to get better treatment if they lived in the town.

Pullman, Illinois by W.E. Chapin.

Pullman, Illinois by W.E. Chapin.

Hotel Florence, Pullman, Illinois, late 1800s.

Hotel Florence, Pullman, Illinois, late 1800s.

The company also provided the residents with a physician and medicines, and fire protection. Before long, work began on the first non-industrial building in town — The Hotel Florence, named for George Pullman’s eldest child. Soon other company-owned community facilities were erected, including a church, the Midwest’s first indoor shopping mall, offices, an elegant library, and theater. The bar in the Florence Hotel was the only place within the town limits where alcohol could be served and consumed. However, workers could not afford to visit or stay at the hotel and felt decidedly unwelcome.

These buildings were grouped near 111th Street, facing the railroad station. The town also included parks, playing fields, and the streets were lined with flowers and greenery.

The factories at Pullman attracted thousands of people, the majority of which were skilled workers. These workers commanded a higher salary than unskilled workers, and Pullman intended to attract and retain these employees. The company also employed women in “appropriate” jobs such as sewing.

“Capital will not invest in sentiment, nor for sentimental considerations for the laboring class. But let it once be proved that enterprises of this kind are safe and profitable, and we shall see great manufacturing companies develop similar enterprises, and thus a new era will be introduced in the history of labor.”

— George Pullman, to the Hour Week Journal of New York, August 5, 1882

Bar inside Hotel Florence, Pullman, Illinois, 1940s.

Bar inside Hotel Florence, Pullman, Illinois, 1940s.

Using mass production methods, by 1884, some 1,400 dwellings had been completed.

Pullman attracted wide attention as a model community. In the fall of 1884, representatives of the labor bureaus of 13 states and Carroll D Wright, U. S. Commissioner of Labor, visited and studied the town. Though their report was generally favorable, they found the rentals a bit higher than in nearby Chicago. They also noted that Pullman’s residents enjoyed broad avenues, parks, prompt garbage collection, and many other advantages that working men could not obtain in Chicago. The most serious criticism was that the residents had little or no voice in the conduct of community affairs. They could not own property in the town, they had no say in its government, the company controlled all media of opinion, and they lived under the strict paternalistic guardianship of George M. Pullman.

By July 1885, the population in Pullman exceeded 8,600. Ethnically diverse, less than half of Pullman residents were native-born, most being immigrants from Scandinavia, Germany, England, and Ireland.

Main shops in Pullman, Illinois by Detroit Publishing, 1900.

Main shops in Pullman, Illinois by Detroit Publishing, 1900.

Not all workers at the Pullman factories lived in Pullman. Some could not afford the rents; others disliked the posted demeaning rules, disagreed with the lack of a town government, and said the Pullman’s spies invaded employees’ privacy. Out of necessity or choice, many moved out to the surrounding neighborhoods. These neighborhoods provided places for single-denomination houses of worship, saloons, and property ownership that were not possible in Pullman.

Still, his company prospered, and Pullman reveled in his position as one of the grandees of Chicago society. His sumptuous mansion on Prairie Avenue, “the sunny street that held the sifted few,” was the scene of gala parties. Pullman and his wife spent a week with President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House, and the sleeping car magnate hired President Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert as his personal lawyer.

“There are variety and freedom on the outside. There are monotony and surveillance on the inside. None of the “superior” or “scientific” advantages of the model city will compensate for the restrictions on the freedom of the workmen, the denial of opportunities of ownership, the heedless and vexatious parade of authority, and the sense of injustice arising from the well-founded belief that the charges of the company for rent, heat, gas, water, etc. are excessive – if not extortionate… Pullman may appear all glitter and glow, all gladness and glory to the casual visitor, but there is the deep, dark background of discontent which it would be idle to deny.”

— The Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1888.

Pullman Car Interior.

Pullman Car Interior.

During the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Pullman exhibits in the Transportation Building drew visitors to visit the model company town. Most praised George Pullman’s grand experiment. However, some labor leaders were mistrustful of the capitalist scheme, while other capitalists doubted it could be as profitable as George Pullman intended. In the end, the town never reached the six percent threshold promised to its investors. However, it appears that the return never exceeded 4.5%. Later, when a partner of Procter & Gamble approached George Pullman for advice on building a model town for a soap factory in Cincinnati, Ohio, against the idea.

In 1893, the grip of financial panic was closing around the country, especially in the railroad industry. Despite the stimulus of the many people traveling to the Columbian Exposition, railroads had become mismanaged and overbuilt.

In June 1893, Eugene V. Debs formed the American Railway Union in Chicago, with membership open to all white railroad employees of any profession. Pullman Company employees were eligible since the company owned and operated a few miles of railroad to access its factories. The union’s structure encouraged democracy and settlement of grievances by mediation, recognizing that strikes were best avoided as they were destructive for both employers and employees. Winning some early victories, the Union membership grew to 150,000. Of Pullman’s employees, 2,500 joined the Union.

That year, in response to financial reverses related to the economic depression, the Pullman Palace Car Company laid off one-third of its workforce, cut the already low wages of its other workers by about 25%, and switched many more to pay-per-piece work. However, the company did not reduce rents, utility rates, or the price of goods sold at the company stores. About 12,000 people were living in the company town, leaving many workers and their families financially struggling. Soon, Pullman workers formed a grievance committee to negotiate with the company regarding low wages and 16-hour workdays, but they were getting nowhere. George Pullman refused to lower rents or go to arbitration. The company, he proclaimed, had “nothing to arbitrate.”

Pullman Shop, 1900.

Pullman Shop, 1900.

There were only about 3,300 workers left on the payroll in May 1894 when a 46-member committee from the union was sent to demand that Pullman rescind the cuts. They were met by Vice-President Thomas J. Wickes and were briefly addressed by George Pullman. He refused any action on the wage cuts but promised to look into complaints about the behavior of foremen and other matters. The next day, May 10, 1894, three committee members were fired.

Then on May 11, 1894, the remaining workers went on strike, even though the leadership of the American Railway Union advised against it. As soon as the plant had emptied, company representatives posted signs at all the gates: “The works are closed until further notice.” The company could afford to withstand a work stoppage financially by relying on existing leases and resisted any concessions, trying to wait the strikers out. In the meantime, George Pullman simply left town after the meeting with the committee, heading to his summer home on the New Jersey seashore.

“I believe a rich plunderer like Pullman is a greater felon than a poor thief, and it has become no small part of the duty of this organization to strip the mask of hypocrisy from the pretended philanthropist and show him to the world as an oppressor of labor…The paternalism of the Pullman is the same as the interest of a slaveholder in his human chattels. You are striking to avert slavery and degradation.”

— Eugene V. Debs, President of the American Railway Union speech of May 16, 1894

Pullman Strike, 1894.

Pullman Strike, 1894.

In June, the American Railway Union decided to boycott the handling of Pullman cars nationwide until the strike was settled. The boycott shut down many of the nation’s rail lines, particularly in the West, stranding passengers and increasing supply costs. Mines and lumber mills had to close for lack of transportation, and power plants and factories ran out of fuel and resources. Rioting broke out in rail yards. When the U.S. mail was disrupted, it was the last straw, and the federal government intervened. An injunction against the boycott was secured on the grounds of the violent nature of the strike and the threat to interstate commerce, citing the Sherman Anti-Trust Law of 1890, which ironically had been adopted to combat monopoly by big business.

Going over the head of the Illinois government, thousands of U.S. Marshals and U.S. Army troops were deployed. In Chicago, mob activity increased with the military presence, with members from Pullman, but many more from other southside neighborhoods. With the Pullman Company strikers’ plight overshadowed by the boycott, fighting between the military and railyard workers in the Chicago area left dozens dead and more wounded in violent clashes.

“We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die, we shall go to the Pullman Hell.”

— Pullman Employee

The Pullman Strike was the first national strike in United States history. Before coming to an end, it involved over 150,000 people and 27 states and territories. The injunction also led to the jailing of key leaders, including American Railway Union President Eugene V. Debs, and weakening the American Railway Union and the strike.

Chicago Railroad Strike, Harper's Weekly, 1894.

Chicago Railroad Strike, Harper’s Weekly, 1894.

The boycott dissolved in mid-July, the Union was defeated, and the employees were compelled to return to work on the terms of the railroad companies. This included rehiring only persons who would sign a “yellow dog” contract promising never to join a union while a Pullman employee. Some Union members were indicted for contempt for refusing to obey the injunction. President Grover Cleveland appointed a commission to investigate the strike and boycott in late July.

A national commission formed to investigate the causes of the strikes found that Pullman’s paternalism was partly to blame and labeled it “un-American.” The report also condemned Pullman for refusing to negotiate and for the economic hardships he created for workers in the town of Pullman.

“The aesthetic features are admired by visitors, but have little money value to employees, especially when they lack bread.”

Lake Vista, Pullman, Illinois, 1895

Lake Vista, Pullman, Illinois, 1895

Though public sentiment had been against the boycott, George Pullman was roundly criticized for the policies that led to the strike and his refusal to enter into arbitration with his workers. The situation for those in Pullman remained dire, and though little effort was made to evict residents or collect past due rents, poverty was widespread. George Pullman defended his model town and decisions that led to the strike, but the damage to the company and the strikers irreparably tarnished his image. Company ownership continued under Pullman’s direction until he died in 1897. Having never recovered his public image, he left instructions that his body be encased in reinforced concrete out of fear it would be desecrated.

In October 1898, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the Pullman Company to sell its lands, houses, and buildings not strictly employed in manufacturing. Some holdings sold quickly, Lake Vista was soon filled, and new tracks and roads were installed. In 1889, the town of Pullman and other significant portions of the South Side were annexed by the city of Chicago.

In the meantime, the Pullman Company became successful again under the leadership of its second president, Robert Todd Lincoln. Union activity returned to Pullman, and just ten years after the explosive strike, in 1904, the company locked out union workers, defeating them quickly and without more significant incident. The population of Pulman was about 10,000 in 1905. In 1907 the houses in Pullman were sold, and residents were given the first option to buy their dwellings for the equivalent of 100 months’ rent.

As the company succeeded in the 20th century, the town it once supported floundered. As the housing stock uniformly aged and other neighborhoods grew, Pullman lost population and its community identity.

Pullman Cars by Strobridge and Co. Lithographers 1894

Pullman Cars by Strobridge and Co. Lithographers 1894

More unrest occurred when African American employees of the Pullman Company helped to organize another labor union called the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) in August 1925. Porters comprised 44% of the Pullman rail car operation workforce, and Pullman was the nation’s largest employer of African Americans.

Over the next 12 years, the BSCP fought a three-front battle against the Pullman Company, the American Federation of Labor, and the anti-union, pro-Pullman sentiments of the majority of the black community. Many members of the African-American community feared economic reprisals since the Pullman Company offered jobs to African-Americans and advertised in the black press.

In 1937, the Pullman Company signed a contract with the BSCP, leading to higher salaries, better job security, and increased protection for workers’ rights through grievance procedures. It was the first significant labor agreement between an African-American union and a corporation. The ultimate victory went beyond Pullman Porters to the African-American society on the whole.

In the 1940s, the Pullman Company factories consolidated and downsized. In the 1950s, many jobs were lost in the city with industrial and railroad restructuring. The neighborhood gradually declined along with work opportunities, and residents began to move to newer housing in the suburbs. In 1960 the original Town of Pullman, approximately between 103rd and 115th Streets, was threatened with total demolition for an industrial park. However, residents formed the Pullman Civic Organization, lobbied the city, and saved their community.

In 1969, the railroads discontinued sleeping car service.

By 1972 the Pullman Historic District had obtained National, State, and City landmark status to protect the original 900 rowhouses and public buildings.

Pullman National Monument was designated on February 19, 2015, making it the first National Park Service unit in Chicago. The park tells the story of one of the first planned industrial communities in the United States, the sleeping car magnate who helped create it, and the workers who lived there. The district is significant for its influence on urban planning and design and its role in American labor history, including the 1894 Pullman Strike and Boycott.

The Pullman neighborhood is located on Chicago’s South Side, about 12 miles from the Chicago Loop. The historic district includes the site of the former Pullman Palace Car workshops, administration building, Hotel Florence, Clock Tower, Factory, Arcade Park, the Greenstone United Methodist Church, and many industrial structures. Approximately 1,650 of the original total of 1,750 dwellings have survived. Also within the district is the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

The Pullman Company development is bounded by 103rd Street on the North, 115th Street on the South, the railroad tracks on the East, and Cottage Grove on the West. Walking tours of Pullman are available.

Historic District:

The primary community facilities are concentrated mainly around a large public square on the neighborhood’s west side, between 111th and 112th Streets.

Florence Hotel today courtesy National Park Foundation.

Florence Hotel today courtesy National Park Foundation.

Hotel Florence

At the northeast corner of this square stands the Hotel Florence, built in 1881. The three-story asymmetrical red-brick structure is crowned with many chimneys, gables, and dormers that protrude from the numerous roof planes. Named after George M. Pullman’s daughter, the 65-room hotel is adjoined on the northeast by a 74-room annex added in 1911.

At the cost of $100,000, the hotel was built to serve as the company’s greeting center and to rent rooms to supply representatives for the company. The most luxurious suite in the hotel, the Pullman Suite, was designed for the personal use of George Pullman and his family. The hotel could also offer first-class accommodations to railroad CEOs who came to Pullman to do business with the firm. The hotel opened to guests on November 1, 1881.

Pullman combined the railroad hotel, the burgeoning luxury hotel-apartment building, and the elite gentleman’s club all to elevate his company brand and leverage his town for profit. The building’s architecture marked it as the stylistic centerpiece of the town. Though it was designed to resemble the houses and other community buildings, its decorative detail and prominent location announced to visitors the very best that Pullman had to offer.  A deep and wide verandah stretched across two entire facades announcing the hotel’s hospitality. From here, visitors had beautiful views of the landscape and Pullman’s “best residences.”

This hotel also replicated the luxurious experience of riding in a Pullman Palace Car. The first floor featured cherry woodwork with decorative carving and details not unlike those in his cars, and the china and silver featured the same Pullman branding. The level and service at the Hotel Florence mimicked the Pullman Porter model with African American men working as waiters in the dining room and black women working as maids.

When the town of Pullman was divested from the company, the Hotel Florence was sold in 1898. It then operated for less than a decade before being converted into a boardinghouse. An Annex was added in 1911, and the rooms, which included three meals a day at the restaurant, were rented to workers.

The Historic Pullman Foundation purchased the hotel in 1975 to save it from demolition, and in 1991, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources took the title in 1991. The exterior and interior of the 19th-century hotel are largely unchanged, and many of the rooms are still furnished with their original furnishings. The building is located at 11111 S. Forrestville Avenue.


Arcade building, Pullman, Illinois, 1882.

Arcade Building, Pullman, Illinois, 1882.

On the west side of the square, near the southwest corner, once stood the large Arcade Building, which contained the theater, library, private offices, meeting rooms, a bank, the post office, lodging rooms, numerous company-owned stores, and other retailers who had to apply for retail space.

The Arcade Building was the largest non-factory building constructed at Pullman, measuring 250 by 166 feet and 90 feet tall. Divided into two sections, the large red-brick building occupied an entire block. The arcade portion was two stories high and was topped by a high and elaborate roof; the 1,000-seat theater portion was three stories in height and had a high roof crowned by a dome.

The theater occupied a primary location inside the Arcade’s second floor. The interior boasted Moorish decor, with complex arches, intricate gallery railings, screens, turrets, rich textiles, and paint colors. Pullman would not rent the theater to a third party because he wanted to approve the propriety of the performances personally. The library had a $3 annual fee to library members and $1 for their children. The librarian lived in an adjacent apartment.

Adjacent to the Arcade building was Arcade Park, professionally designed with formal gardens arranged to form geometric patterns. Surrounding this formal interior was dense plantings of native wildflowers, shrubs, and a few small trees.

Unfortunately, the Arcade Building was demolished in 1926 after falling into disrepair. Arcade Park remained but was neglected. In the 1970s, the park was replanted but not in its original formal style, as it was too costly. The flower beds, echoing the original configuration, are now maintained by the all-volunteer Historic Pullman Garden Club and managed by the Chicago Park District.

The Arcade was located at 11132 S. St. Lawrence Avenue.

Pullman Exhibit Hall

The Exhibit Hall located at Cottage Grove and 112th Street sits on a portion of Arcade Park. In 1993, the Historic Pullman Foundation opened the hall in a 1950s  former American Legion Hall. Volunteers and partners from the Historic Pullman Foundation are on-hand to answer questions and provide suggestions on how to enjoy your visit to the monument. There are informational displays, artifacts, and an introductory film available.

Mural at the Pullman Exhibit Hall.

Mural at the Pullman Exhibit Hall.

Greenstone Church

At the southeast corner of the public square is the Greenstone Church. Constructed of limestone in 1880-84, this fine Gothic Church is in excellent condition and has been little altered inside or out. The church features a unique facade of greenstone quarried in Pennsylvania and seats 600. Except for the chancel arrangements, the sanctuary has remained unchanged since the 1880s. The cherrywood comprises the altar and pews, over 90% of the stained glass windows, and the manual-tracker pipe organ are original to the building.

The Greenstone Church was built in 1882 as part of the original plan for the town of Pullman. The Greenstone Church was built to “complete the scene” of the town, but George Pullman, having family roots in the Universalist Church, thought the building would be a church that was “for all to unite in union with the body.” However, it was quickly realized that each denomination wanted to worship in their tradition, their language, with their pastors.

In addition to this complication, the church building sat empty for over two years due to the high monthly rent. Small religious societies met in rooms rented at the Market Hall, the Arcade, or the Casino buildings. The rent of $300 per month for the church and $65 for the parsonage to the south end of the building were deemed excessive. Eventually, the rent was lowered, and the Presbyterians were the first tenants of the church, having leased the building by 1887.

When the Pullman Company was forced to sell off most of the town, beginning in 1898, a Methodist congregation soon afterward purchased the building, and it has remained in their care since.  The church is located at 11211 South St. Lawrence Street.

Pullman Stables, 1885.

Pullman Stables, 1885.

Public Stables

On the corner of 112th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, across the street from the Pullman Exhibit Hall, are the Pullman Stables. The Pullman Company required that all horses and carriages be kept here. At the turn of the century, a popular Sunday afternoon activity was to rent a carriage and team to tour the countryside and enjoy a family picnic.

The use of bricks, gables, fish-scale shingles and other features helped tie the stables with the rest of the buildings. The carved wooden horse heads flanking the grand arched entrance are a special feature.

In the 1970s, the building was used as a gas station and auto repair shop. Now it is privately owned and houses a nonprofit organization.

Market Hall

Pullman Market Hall courtesy Wikipedia.

Pullman Market Hall courtesy Wikipedia.

The original Market Hall was built at the same time as the test of the town of Pullman. It featured two stories and an exterior whose limestone foundation matched the Arcade. Within the hall were a lunch counter, 16 stalls to sell fresh meats and vegetables, and a meeting hall. In 1892, it was destroyed by fire. In 1893, it was rebuilt with a three-story circular design format intended to mimic the Romanesque buildings of the 1883 World’s Columbian Exposition. The new Market Hall had stalls for sellers on the first floor, offices on the second floor, and a large hall on the third floor featuring a stage and dressing rooms for performances. Unfortunately, this building also suffered two more fires in 1931 and 1973.

Only the lower half of the Market Hall remains today. It was purchased by the Historic Pullman Foundation in 1974 and stabilized for visitors to the neighborhood to view. It has been used for public art displays in the past, and its colonnade apartments are still lived in today. It is located at 11159 S Champlain Avenue.

Fire Station

The Firehouse was built in 1894 in a Romanesque style. It replaced the earlier firehouse, located across from the Arcade Building in southern Pullman. The tall, narrow tower was used to survey the area for any signs of fire nearby and also to hang and dry fire hoses. It is the last surviving firehouse in Chicago with a hose-drying watchtower.

Throughout its history, the building has been operated by the Chicago Fire Department and used as a storage facility by the Sherwin-Williams Company. Today, the historic fire station is owned by the City of Chicago and is not in use. It is located at 641 E 108th Street.

Pullman Wheelworks

The Pullman Wheelworks was built in 1918 as a manufacturing facility for the Packard Open Body Shop for assembling Packard Automobiles. The Pullman Company built the facilities in a contract with Packard from 1919 to 1923. In 1981, the Wheelworks was converted into 210 multifamily apartment units, with recent renovations in 2010 done by Mercy Lakefront Housing, the current property manager. The building is located at 901 East 104th Street.

Pullman, Illinois Clock Tower and Administration Building, courtesy Wikipedia.

Pullman, Illinois Clock Tower and Administration Building, courtesy Wikipedia.

Administration Building & Industrial Structures

Industrial structures continue to form a large complex between 108th and 111th Streets. In 1880-84 this area was occupied by the large factories of the Pullman Company, which were arranged in four long rows extending north and south. The steel roof trusses used on these large shops formed the dominant element of their appearance. Their red-brick walls, trimmed with limestone, and their Romanesque window arches helped to harmonize the architecture of the industrial buildings with that of the adjacent residential and community facility buildings. Only two or three original buildings of this once great complex stand today.

The most notable of these is the large brick former Pullman Company Administration Building, with its opulent architecture and tall clock tower. Built in 1880, the Administration Clock Tower Building formed the central mass of a monumental structure 700 feet long. As the manufacturing center of Pullman, the Administration and Factory Complex was an unusually ornate industrial building designed to sit in a park-like setting. The structure overlooked the artificial Lake Vista, which was a cooling reservoir for the Corliss steam engine. The main facade faced the Illinois Central tracks and thus was one of the first buildings a visitor would see. As both real and symbolic expressions of the great economic power, which was the Pullman Company, it was essential the building display a strong sense of formal ordering.

In 1991, the State of Illinois purchased the Administration Clock Tower Building to comprise the Illinois Pullman State Historic Site. The 12.66-acre site is at the northeast corner of 111th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, directly north of the Hotel Florence.

After standing for 117 years as a Pullman landmark, the Administration Clock Tower Building was seriously damaged by a fire set by an arsonist on December 1, 1998. The tower and clock were rebuilt and installed on-site in late 2005. The district was named a National Monument on February 19, 2015, making it a component of the National Park System. Now, the building hosts the National Park Service’s Visitor Center. It is located at 11001 S. Cottage Grove Avenue.

Pullman Homes

The original rowhomes of the 1880s Pullman Company Town were various sizes and designed to accommodate workers of all levels. The rowhomes were rented to residents by the company and boasted unique amenities such as indoor plumbing (flush toilets), well-ventilated and well-lit rooms, and steam heating for the executive homes.

The brick buildings consisted of elements typical of the American Queen Anne style with special efforts made to introduce variety to the rowhouse facades, attempting to avoid the monotony typical of industrial housing. Each rowhome had a small front yard with a variety of trees planted along the parkways.

Pullman Housing courtesy Google Maps.

Pullman Housing courtesy Google Maps.

A primary feature of Pullman’s town was the physical manifestation of social hierarchy built into domestic surroundings. Hierarchy was common in company towns, especially in remote places, and it enforced the workplace chain of command of managers over foremen over workers in the domestic sphere in order (companies assumed) to normalize the power structure that supported production. Status in Pullman houses was determined by size and amenities, much like in any other American town, where rent depended on these factors. Pullman rarely described the hierarchy built into his town, focusing instead on his theory that clean and beautiful surroundings would keep workers out of poverty and away from alcoholism and promiscuity.

Today, the homes are all privately owned. Protection of the facades went into effect after Pullman was designated a National Historic Landmark District and a City of Chicago Landmark District in the 1970s. The Historic Landmark District and National Monument incorporates all homes and buildings from 103rd street to 115th (north to south) and S. Cottage Grove Ave to S. Ellis St. (east to west). You can still see a variety of styles here, from executive homes that face the old factory grounds to historic blockhouses that have gone through adaptive reuse to become artist housing.

National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum (NAPPRM) was founded in 1995 by Dr. Lyn Hughes. The museum is named after Asa Philip Randolph and Pullman Porters, the men who made up the membership of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) union.

Randolph was the chief organizer and co-founder of the BSCP. BSCP was the first African-American labor union in the country to be recognized by the American Federation of Labor and win a collective bargaining agreement against a major corporation, the Pullman Palace Car Company.

The museum’s mission “…is to promote, honor and celebrate the legacy of A. Philip Randolph, Pullman Porters, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and contributions made by African-Americans to America’s labor movement; with a significant focus on the African American Railroad Employee”. The museum showcases a permanent collection through exhibits and media.

In general, the town of Pullman has retained its 19th-century appearance and its original plan to a remarkable degree. The basic plan of the town and the exterior of most of its original buildings have not been greatly altered. The two railroad stations are now gone and the former lake has been filled in to permit the construction of present Cottage Grove Avenue, which runs north-south over a portion of the lake site.

The Pullman Depot no longer stands.

The Pullman Depot no longer stands.

More Information:

Pullman National Monument
610 E. 111th Street
Chicago, IL 60628

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated December 2021.

Also See:

American Transportation

Company Towns of America

Industrial American and the Progressive Era Timeline, 1876-1929

Pullman Advertisement.

Pullman Advertisement.

Industrial Revolution


Illinois Labor History
National Park Service
National Register of Historic Places
Pullman Museum
Smithsonian Magazine