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The New Pullman National Monument

A Journey to Pullman National Monument in Chicago

with Bill Heard, the son of a Pullman Porter

By Robert & Kandace Tabern, Email:

Trip Taken: April 4, 2015
Published: May 11, 2015

Author Robert Tabern (right) poses with Bill Heard (left), the son of a Pullman Porter, at Pullman National Monument
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

As you can probably gather by some of our earlier writings here on TrainWeb, and our leadership roles in the Trails & Rails program, we both love visiting national parks just as much as we do riding trains. So when we heard on the local news that President Barack Obama had just declared potions of the Pullman neighborhood a National Monument, we knew that we would have to plan a visit there on our next available weekend. We ended up deciding to head down there on the afternoon of Saturday, April 4, 2015. We also knew the perfect person to ask to come with us... Bill Heard. Bill, who lives in the Racine area of Wisconsin, is now 82 years old and was a former Santa Fe and Amtrak employee. Robert met Bill a number of years ago because Bill works for Amtrak photographing many events for the company's newsletters. He can often be found traveling across the country and taking pictures of various employee promotions, retirements, and other special events. He can often be spotted running around National Train Day in Chicago with his camera photographing all of the events going on there. Bill even got to ride with us on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri in December 2013 when two of our volunteers played Santa and Mrs. Claus for all of the children on the train and out at the station in La Plata.  It's amazing how many times we have randomly crossed paths will Bill, running into him at the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago. Anyway, at one time Bill vaguely mentioned to us that his father worked as a Pullman porter out of Los Angeles back in the 1920's and 1930's... so it was only fitting that he come with us to the newly-declared Pullman National Monument.

A sign for the Pullman Company can still be seen above one of the doorways
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

The old Pullman Wheel Works Building is now a housing development
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

First of all - getting to Pullman National Monument is really easy for anyone who might have a layover at Chicago Union Station. This is a great option for something unique and educational to do with your time, especially if you are coming in Chicago between one of the on-time morning eastern long-distance trains (Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, or City of New Orleans) and then leaving in the afternoon on one of the western long distance trains (Texas Eagle, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, or Southwest Chief). Note that you could make a visit to the park in reverse of what was mentioned above (with a connection between a western train and eastern train in the late afternoon/early evening), however the park currently has limited visitor center hours (Daily, except Mondays, 11AM to 3PM), so you would not be able to get access to the visitor center, but could still walk around the neighborhood. Anyhow, the best way to get over there, in my opinion, from Union Station would be to exit on Canal Street and walk one block south of Jackson, until you come to Van Buren Street. At Van Buren Street, begin walking east; you will cross the Chicago River and go on a nice walk through the Loop. After about 8 or 9 blocks you come to the Van Buren Street stop on the Metra Electric Line. Take the next train down to the 111th Street/Pullman Stop. You have to check the schedule carefully as some trains will run express down to 115th Street/Kensington Street; you could take one of these trains if you didn't mind the four block back-track walk to the visitor center and Pullman neighborhood. Your other option using public transit to get down to Pullman National Monument would be to take the CTA Red Line to the end of the line at 95th Street, and then connect with the CTA Route #115 bus that runs down Cottage Grove Avenue and stops virtually right in front of the visitor center. On this particular day, due to time limitations, we decided to drive down; there was ample parking at the visitor center if you chose to do this.



Bill Heard, the son of a Pullman Porter, is excited to be arriving at the new Pullman National Monument
(Photos by Robert Tabern)

The first stop that Bill wanted to make was at the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, which is located at 10406 S. Maryland Avenue in Chicago. Note that this just over a one mile walk from the National Park Service visitor center (at 112th & Cottage Grove) and is on the far northern side of the area declared a National Monument. Bill donated some of his father's memorabilia to the museum, but had not had the chance to ever head down there and see what was on display. This was supposed to be one of the highlights of our visit. Unfortunately, we were very disappointed when we arrived and the museum was closed. According to the hours on the website, it should have been open (listed as being open Thursdays through Saturdays from 11AM to 3PM from April 1 to December 1). The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Museum, while in the new National Monument boundaries, is a privately run museum dedicated to telling the history of Pullman porters. The museum was founded in 1995 by Dr. Lyn Hughes. Bill explained to us that A. Philip Randolph was the chief organizer and co-founder of the BSCP, the first African-American labor union in the United States to win a collective bargaining agreement. Under Randolph's leadership, the Pullman Porters fought for employment equality with the Pullman Rail Car Company. Admission to the museum is $5.00, but again, it's apparently best to actually call ahead too to make sure they are going to be open when you are planning to visit there. Egh, I guess it gives us an excuse to head down there again someday!

Despite saying they were open on their website, the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum was closed on April 4, 2015
(Photo Courtesy: A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum)

Since that Pullman Porter museum was closed, our next stop was a drive over to the National Park Service visitor center located near 112th & Cottage Grove (the exact address is 11141 S. Cottage Grove). Apparently up until the area was declared part of the National Park Service on February 19, 2015, this visitor center was managed solely by the Historic Pullman Foundation. For many years this organization provided restoration work on the neighborhood and was responsible for providing visitor services, including walking tours during the summer months.  As it stands now, the National Park Service is planning on building its own new visitor center located in one of the Pullman factory buildings once it is restored, however this might take several more years. For the mean time, the National Park Service and the Historic Pullman Foundation will share the visitor center at 112th & Cottage Grove. We learned something interesting when talking to the park ranger on duty that day. He said that there is a very clear reason why Pullman was declared a National Monument and not a National Historical Site, as one might think would be more appropriate. Apparently, the President of the United States is allowed to declare any land that he wants a National Monument through Executive Order, while any other type of National Park Service Unit (National Park, National Historic Site, etc.) would take an act of Congress. Many historical preservationists feared that by the time Congress actually got around to acting and doing all of the usual studies needed to declare Pullman a National Historical Site, more building would be lost to the wrecking ball. That is why many advocates urged President Obama to declare it a National Monument. 


President Obama signs legislation in February 2015 declaring Pullman a unit of the National Park Service
(Courtesy: Historic Pullman Foundation / Pullman National Monument)

While at the visitor center, we got to meet with Micheal Shymanski, an architect, a resident of the Pullman neighborhood, and probably most importantly, the President of the Historic Pullman Foundation. Michael mentioned to us that the foundation serves as a vehicle to acquire and restore important public buildings within the Pullman Historic District; to develop and provide educational programs and tours; and to conduct research and long range community planning to facilitate the continuing preservation and restoration of the Pullman Historic District. One of the more interesting long-range projects  that Michael mentioned to us was the idea of having foundation volunteer docents meet visitors at the downtown stations along the Metra Electric Line and ride with them out to the visitor center. This would be a great idea in my opinion and draw a big crowd.



The National Park Service Visitor Center at Pullman National Monument is located near 112th & Cottage Grove Ave.
(Photos by Robert & Kandace Tabern)

There are numerous exhibits you can view at the visitor center, including Pullman photos and old railroad China on display. Even though it came across as a little dated, be sure to spend the 15 minutes or so watching the movie; it will give you a good background on Pullman's connection with Chicago. We learned that George Pullman was born in 1831 in Brocton, New York, but moved with his family to Albion, New York, along the Erie Canal. At the age of fourteen, he dropped out of school. He went to work with his father, moving houses during the widening of the Erie Canal. It was through this job that Pullman learned his technique of shifting homes to newly built foundations. He moved to Chicago as a young engineer and worked to raise the buildings of central Chicago to a new grade that allowed for a sewer system to be built; Pullman was responsible for constructing new foundations under the raised homes. Pullman then developed a railroad sleeping car, These were designed after the packet boats that traveled the Erie Canal of his youth in Albion. The first one was finished in 1864. After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Pullman arranged to have his body carried from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois on a sleeper, for which he gained national attention, as hundreds of thousands of people lined the route in homage. Orders for his new car began to pour into his company. The sleeping cars proved successful --- although each cost more than five times the price of a regular railway car. They were marketed as "luxury for the middle class." Pullman believed that if his sleeper cars were to be successful, he needed to provide a wide variety of services to travelers: collecting tickets, selling berths, dispatching wires, fetching sandwiches, mending torn trousers, converting day coaches into sleepers, etc. Pullman believed that former house slaves of the plantation South had the right combination of training to serve the businessmen who would patronize his "Palace Cars." Pullman became the biggest single employer of African Americans in post-Civil War America.




Various interior shots from the new National Park Service Visitor Center at Pullman National Monument
(Photos by Robert & Kandace Tabern)

Be sure to get your National Park Passport Stamp or participate in a junior ranger program at the Visitor Center
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

In 1880 Pullman bought 4,000 acres 14 miles south of Chicago, on the Illinois Central Railroad for $800,000. He hired Solon Spencer Beman to design his new plant there. Trying to solve the issue of labor unrest and poverty, he also built a company town adjacent to his factory; it featured housing, shopping areas, churches, theaters, parks, hotel and library for his factory employees. The 1300 original structures were entirely designed by Beman. The centerpiece of the complex was the Administration Building and a man-made lake. The Hotel Florence, named for Pullman's daughter, was built nearby. Pullman believed that the country air and fine facilities, without agitators, saloons and city vice districts, would result in a happy, loyal workforce. The model planned community became a leading attraction for visitors who attended the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. It attracted nationwide attention. The national press praised Pullman for his vision. According to mortality statistics, it was one of the most healthful places in the world.

One of the displays in the new National Park Service Visitor Center
(Courtesy: Historic Pullman Foundation / Pullman National Monument)

Many say that Pullman ruled the town like a feudal baron. He prohibited independent newspapers, public speeches, town meetings or open discussion. His inspectors regularly entered homes to inspect for cleanliness and could terminate workers' leases on ten days' notice. When manufacturing demand fell off in 1894, Pullman cut jobs and wages and increased working hours in his plant to lower costs and keep profits, but he did not lower rents or prices in the company town. Eventually the workers launched the Pullman Strike. When violence broke out, he gained the support of President Grover Cleveland for the use of United States troops. In 1898, one year after Pullman's death, the Supreme Court of Illinois forced the Pullman Company to divest ownership in the town, which was annexed to Chicago. You can still see many of the original buildings today, such as Hotel Florence and the Administration Building. However, many of the structures are now closed for renovations with the new designation as a National Monument. It will be an exciting day when they are re-opened to the public and look as good as they did 135 years ago.

Bill took us on a quick walking tour of the old Pullman Neighborhood, which is now part of the National Monument
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

The old Pullman Administration Building is currently undergoing rehab; it will be the permanent Pullman NM Visitor Center
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

A close-up of the old clock tower at the old Pullman Administration Building
(Courtesy: Historic Pullman Foundation / Pullman National Monument)


Historic neighborhood homes that visitors can check out on a self-guided walking tour
(Courtesy: Historic Pullman Foundation / Pullman National Monument)

Our last treat of the day while visiting Pullman was when Bill pulled something out of the old briefcase that he is often seen carrying around -- it was a picture of his dad as a Pullman Porter!!  Just incredible!



A photo and identification card belonging to Pullman Porter, J.M. Heard, the father of our friend, Bill Heard
(Images provided by Bill Heard)

The whole ride back to downtown Chicago Bill shared some stories with about his dad and working as a Pullman porter. We all agreed that we would have to come back and spend more time down at the new Pullman National Monument -- and maybe take one of the historical walking tours of the neighborhood that are offered by the Historic Pullman Foundation on  the first Sunday of every month from May to October. We hope that you enjoyed reading about our experience and that you will plan a visit the next time you are visiting Chicago.


  Pullman National Monument | Historic Pullman Foundation | Pullman Guided Walking Tours

Pullman 2015 Calendar of Events | A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum


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