A Walk Through Chicago's Historic Pullman District
Modern Cities takes a stroll through America's first industrial town: Chicago's Pullman Historic District
The model industrial town of Pullman, Illinois had its beginning on May 26, 1880, in the open prairie. This town was the physical expression of an idea born and nurtured in the mind of George M. Pullman, President of Pullman’s Palace Car Company.
He decided to develop a model community, a total environment, superior to that available to the working class elsewhere. By so doing, he hoped to avoid strikes, attract the most skilled workers, and attain greater productivity as a result of the better health, environment, and spirit of his employees.
Pullman realized the necessity of building his town so it would have accessibility to the big city markets and railroad connections throughout the entire country. The 4,000-acre tract selected for the site lay along the western shore of Lake Calumet, approximately 13 miles directly south of Chicago. It was essentially open prairie and marsh land linked to Chicago and the southern states by the Illinois Central Railroad, and to the world by Lake Calumet’s connection to Lake Michigan and the St. Lawrence River.
George Pullman hired Solon S. Beman, landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett and civil engineer, Benzette Williams, to translate his plans into three-dimensional reality.
Construction of the town was executed by Pullman employees. Structures were made of brick, fashioned from clay found in Lake Calumet, at a brickyard built south of the town for this purpose. Pullman shops produced component parts used throughout the building of the town. This project was one of the first applications of industrial technology and mass production in the construction of a large-scale housing development. The town of over 1,000 homes and public buildings was completed by 1884, less than four years later.
Each dwelling was provided with gas and water, access to complete sanitary facilities, and abundant quantities of sunlight and fresh air. Front and back yards provided personal green space, while expansive parks and open lands provided larger, shared ones. Maintenance of the residences was included in the rental prices, as was daily garbage pickup.
These factors brought Pullman to be voted the world’s most perfect town at the Prague International Hygienic and Pharmaceutical Exposition of 1896.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of ModernCities.com and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org