Chicago’s Historic Pullman Neighborhood

Take a walk on Chicago’s historical side with a visit to the city’s South Side Pullman neighborhood. Now known as the Pullman Historic District, the neighborhood is the city’s first and only National Monument, making it a must-see destination for those who want to experience this “time capsule” and its distinctive historical heritage. Originally designed as a “town within a town” for employees of luxury railcar tycoon George Pullman, many of the original buildings still exist today as examples of everything from workers’ cottages to executive mansions.

Mural in the Historic Pullman District. Pullman, Chicago Photo Courtesy of Matthew Dillon

History Is Alive In Pullman

One of the best ways to experience the outdoors when visiting Grand Junction is to venture out to The Hotel Florence is just one such building that still exists from the era when the Pullman railcar industry dominated. Named after George Pullman’s favorite daughter and built to house VIP guests such as railroad CEOs and magnates, the hotel opened in 1881 and was immediately a neighborhood landmark. Though the future of this historic hotel is uncertain, its history is sure to be preserved through the efforts of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources—and its beautiful architecture and imposing aspect make it a worthwhile stop in Pullman. Those who want to learn more about the area’s industrial history and ties to the labor movement, including the Hotel Florence, can visit the Historic Pullman Visitor Center, which houses area artifacts and informative exhibits about the neighborhood.

Want to experience more of Pullman’s remarkable history? Then head to the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum celebrates African Americans’ role in the United States Labor Movement through cultural education and exploration of African American history and culture. And it’s more than just the museum and the Hotel Florence that comprise Pullman’s historic buildings—many of the neighborhood’s current homes are themselves designated as ‘historic.’ The best way to explore every example of Pullman’s 140-year-old landmark homes is by taking the Annual Historic Pullman House Tour. Every year, over one weekend, these homes are open to the public and offer a great cross-section of Pullman’s distinctive architecture and history.

A Taste Of The Southside In The Historic Pullman

A true taste of the Southside at the One Eleven Food Hall. Photo Courtesy of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives

But Pullman isn’t just about history. This former planned utopia, once named “The World’s Most Perfect Town,” also has a variety of restaurants that are worth a look. With authentic South Side flair, One Eleven Food Hall is a great way to get a taste of Pullman cuisine. One Eleven Food Hall’s goal was to create a “diverse dining collective in Pullman,” and they’ve certainly succeeded with their concept to bring the neighborhood food scene together in a shared and collaborative environment. Current participants include Lexington Betty Smokehouse, AndySunflower Café, and Majani Soulful Vegan Cuisine. A popular neighborhood breakfast spot on the southern end of the neighborhood, Cal-Harbor Restaurant is a favorite for both locals and tourists—visitors say it’s worth a stop for the biscuits alone. For those who want a one-of-a-kind dining experience while after visiting Pullman, the South Shore’s Calumet Fisheries is the place to go—they smoke their seafood on-site and are one of the few smokehouses left in the state of Illinois.

Iconic South Shore, Calumet Fisheries

Take A Walking Tour Of Pullman

Pullman was initially designed to be a community where the Pullman Palace Car Company employees could live and work in their own self-sufficient community. A “town within a town” just 15 miles from downtown Chicago, many of Pullman’s original buildings still remain—and the best way to experience this South Side neighborhood is to check them out on a walking tour. Starting at the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center, housed in an over 100-year old restored clock tower. After stopping by the Florence Hotel, head to 111th Street, home of many former executive mansions and worker’s cottages. While access to many of the historic homes remains limited to the Annual Pullman House Tour, the exteriors are still worth a look because of their architectural and historical significance. Another landmark neighborhood building worth a look at is the Greenstone Church. Built-in 1892, the church is a beautiful Romanesque building with distinctive stained glass windows and a 92-foot steeple. Finish the tour with a visit to the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum to learn about the employees of Pullman and their early contributions to the American labor rights movement.

Greenstone Church, Pullman, Chicago Photo Courtesy of Matthew Dillon

Relaxing Recreation In The Town Within A Town

George Pullman’s vision of the perfect community also included recreational opportunities for those who lived and worked in Pullman—and the two largest green spaces still exist today for visitors to Pullman to enjoy. Pullman Park is a landscaped neighborhood green area designed to promote factory workers’ recreation that wasn’t dominated by plant buildings. Arcade Park is another relaxing, open green space in Pullman—another excellent example of the detailed vision of George Pullman to create a community for his factory workers. The railcar tycoon meticulously planned even the green spaces; he even hired noted landscape architect Nathan Franklin Barrett for this purpose. A newer green space in Pullman is The Gateway Garden—located at the “front door” of the historic community; the space was designed with the help of a grant and extensive community involvement and is now an attractive tree and plant-filled space that welcomes visitors to Pullman. A bit off the beaten track, but still in the Pullman area, is Big Marsh Bike Park, a spot where visitors can play on two wheels—whether on one of the park’s paved tracks or on the site’s nature trails—which are great for walkers and runners, too. This almost 300-acre oasis near the Calumet River Corridor is also one of Chicago’s most diverse natural areas—so be prepared for some superb wildlife spotting opportunities, as there are more than 15 species that call the space their home.

Pullman National Monument Visitors Center, Chicago. Photo Courtesy of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives

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