Experience History at Pullman National Monument

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We’re big-time now, Chicago! As of September, we officially have our first designated National Park site, Pullman National Monument. The monument honors not only early Chicago industrialist George Pullman (1831-1899) and his railway car-manufacturing empire, but also the many Pullman employees who helped usher in new rights for workers. Designated by former President Barack Obama in 2015, the site is a must-visit for families from Chicago and beyond. Here’s everything you need to know to plan a visit to Pullman National Monument with kids.

photo: National Parks Service

A brief history of Pullman.

Formerly a planned, industrial town, Pullman remains a vibrant, living community, not your everyday museum but a Chicago neighborhood packed with history. George Pullman's factory churned out the world's first popular sleeper trains, luxurious 'palace cars' complete with crystal chandeliers, wide, comfortable beds, and gourmet meals served by former slaves turned porters, the storied Pullman Porters.

Railway history is a big part of the Pullman experience, so If you have a choo-choo train fanatic in the fam, you'll enjoy the experience that stretches from 103rd St. to 115th St. and from the Norfolk Southern rail line east to Cottage Grove Avenue

Plan your visit to coincide with a ranger-guided tour.

Perhaps the best way to experience historic Pullman is on a National Park Ranger-guided tour. Walking guided tours are offered on the first Sunday of the month, May-October, and begin at the Historic Pullman Foundation Visitor Center at 1:30 p.m. and last about 90 minutes. Check the site's event calendar before you go, too, to plan your visit to coincide with upcoming special tours and events.

Start your visit at the Historic Pullman Foundation Visitor Center.

Start your visit at the NPS Visitor Center housed in the Administration Clocktower Building (610 111th St.). Built in 1880, the Administration Clock Tower Building faces the Illinois Central tracks, making it one of the first buildings a visitor would see upon stepping off a Pullman railway car. Rotating exhibits showcase items from Pullman's past: Kids can step inside a model of a Pullman "Palace Car" and see how Pullman's factory workers assembled the fancy railway cars. You can also pick up a handy Self-Guided Walking Tour brochure, which will guide you to the most representative buildings in the northern, central, and southern parts of the massive monument.

Pullman was originally designed so that everything a company worker needed was within walking distance, making it easy to explore everything the monument has to offer on foot.

Participate in the Junior Ranger Program.

Pick up a free, fun activity book at the NPS Visitor Center, so your kids can work toward becoming official Junior National Parks Rangers while visiting Pullman.

The Junior Ranger Program consists of activities prepared especially for kids ages 5-12 visiting National Park Service-managed parks, monuments, and historical sites. Children participate in the program by completing prepared activity books that help them discover the importance of a National Park Service park, monument, or historic site on their own terms. After completing the specified amount of pages for your kid's age group, they'll be awarded a patch, badge, and/or certificate unique to each park. Many kids collect the badges — check out these fun ideas for displaying Junior Ranger badge collections

Pullman's Junior Ranger activity book features rail car mazes, a train car word match, an easy-to-read timeline of events at Pullman, and a bingo-style checklist of interesting places located across the park, encouraging exploration.

Bring your activity book back to the Visitor Center upon completion, and your little ranger will receive a Pullman badge and ranger-signed certificate. 

photo: Amy Bizzarri

Step inside the site's historic buildings.

Historic Pullman Foundation Exhibit Hall — Stop in to see the rotating exhibits and watch the 17-minute long video showcasing the history of Pullman.

Hotel Florence — Hotel Florence, named after George Pullman's daughter, was one of the fanciest hotels in Chicago when it opened in 1881. The 50-room hotel cost a whopping $100,000 to build and once accommodated railroad CEOs who visited Pullman on business.

Executive Row  Pullman neighborhood is known for its elegant row homes, which once housed company employees. Take a stroll on 111th St. between St. Lawrence and Langley to view the company executives' homes.

Pullman and Arcade Parks — Kids will enjoy running around Pullman Park and Arcade Park, two green spaces built by head honcho George Pullman.

Pullman Factory Complex — The massive Pullman factory complex strived to offer better working conditions and was well lit and ventilated, unlike most factories of the era. It churned out the beautiful 'hotels on wheels' that made Pullman so famous during the golden age of rail travel.

Visit the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.

The success of the Pullman Rail Car Company owes a lot to the highly trained, primarily African American porters who attended to guests on their long rail journeys. The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, located near the monument, in the Pullman neighborhood, showcases the history of the Pullman porters, who banded together to form the first African American labor union in the U.S. to win a collective bargaining agreement. The Pullman porters would eventually help to fuel the Great Migration and launch the civil rights movement.

Dine at One Eleven Food Hall.

Food halls are the ideal dining option for families: Everyone can find something they like with multiple options in one space. Pullman's One Eleven Food Hall offers three unique stops — Majani (vegan soul food), AndySunflower Cafe (lattes and pastries), and Lexington Betty (mouthwatering BBQ). A local entrepreneur owns each restaurant, so you can count on delicious, locally made food under one roof.

For more information on Pullman National Monument, visit www.nps.gov/pull

— Amy Bizzarri

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