A National Park Where You Least Expect It

Strange as it may seem, until last year, the city of Chicago had no National Park Service properties within the city limits. But just in time for the park system centennial, President Obama promoted the Pullman National Historic District into the Pullman National Monument. Built as a company town in the 1860s—at that point it was south of the Chicago city limits—the settlement of Pullman housed the employees of the Pullman Palace Car Factory, which made Pullman sleeper rail cars and was owned by George, yes, Pullman. Practically the only thing in town that was not named after him was the Hotel Florence—that was named for his daughter.

About half of his employees were the white factory workers who built the cars, but about half of them were the porters that he supplied to work in the cars when they were leased to the various railroads around the country. These porters, usually freed slaves who’d migrated north looking for work, became the foundation of the black middle class in the Midwest and beyond. (Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s father was a Pullman porter.) Although the Hotel Florence and the factory have both been closed for renovations for years now, you can wander around the original planned community, whose red-brick townhouses were a model of worker housing for that era. Unfortunately, they were also not made available to Pullman’s black employees. For more about the struggles of those workers for equality, including the roots of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, visit the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

Pullman_Chicago_Clock_TowerClock tower and admin building of PPCC by Boven

Pullman_Market_SquarePullman Market Hall by Peterfitzgerald at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0

Pullman_rowhousesPullman Rowhouses by Payton Chung via Flickr

Randolph_MuseumRandolph Museum by Alanscottwalker via Wikimedia Commons

FloranceHotelPullmanHotel Florence by Detroit Publishing


Featured Photo: Hotel Florence by Peter Fitzgerald, CC BY 2.0

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