Saving Pullman Chicago – could become a National Park

Pullman Illinois is one of the most important North American sites in the history of urban planning, its most important company town – alongside Lowell.

But it has been neglected as the areas around it have declined.

Now according to USA today Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr is sponsoring a bill for a study that would see the US National park Service take over.

Lynn McClure of the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association says the study would determine the suitability and feasibility of making Pullman a national park site. Having such a site in Chicago would be “incredible,” she says. “It is the only big city in the country that just has zero national park presence.”

The Pullman District is an industrial and residential complex built in the 1880s by George Pullman to build the famous Pullman sleeping car and house workers in a company-owned community with homes, a church, hotel, market and recreational facilities.

A strike in 1894 by Pullman workers and the formation of the first all-African-American union in 1925 helped shape the black labor movement.

The African Americans hired to work in the factory and as porters allowed many to move into the middle class, and porters helped spark the historic migration of blacks from the South to northern cities by spreading the word about jobs in the North, says Lionel Kimble, who teaches history at Chicago State University. The porters’ “impact on history can’t be seen in a negative light,” he says.

Jeff Soule, outreach director for the American Planning Association, says Pullman was “the first industrial city designed with the inhabitants’ welfare in mind” and included nice, if modest, homes for workers and proximity to the goods and services they needed. Planners “are trying to re-create the community that Pullman already is,” he says.

A Pullman national park site could be modeled after Massachusetts’ Lowell National Historical Park, which highlights the early textile industry, says Patrick Brannon, president of the Pullman Civic Organization and a resident. “It could have a lot of tourist draw,” he says, although some residents worry about being inundated by visitors.

Michael Shymanski, a Pullman resident and president of the Historic Pullman Foundation, says the district was the birthplace of many “significant ideas in the experiment of America. It’s an international icon.”

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