In 1880, George Pullman set out to build a utopian community in Chicago.
The neighborhood we know today as Pullman was the first industrial planned community in the U.S., built specifically for the employees of Pullman Palace Car Company. Pullman wanted the community to attract and retain the most talented workers available and provide such a high standard of living that those workers would be happy, productive — and less likely to strike.
By some measures, he succeeded. In the span of a few years, Pullman's community grew to include 1,000 residential and public buildings, ample green space, and a population of nearly 9,000 by 1885. After only 15 years of existence, Pullman was named “The World’s Most Perfect Town” at the International Hygienic and Pharmaceutical Exposition in Prague.
Today Pullman is home to a vibrant community that's rich with history and renowned for its architecture, like stunning row houses and restored company buildings. For history buffs, architectural aficionados, or people who like going off the beaten path, Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood is well worth the trip.
Here are a handful of ways to spend a day in Pullman.
Join the Historic Pullman House Tour
The mid-October weather in Chicago is hard to beat, making it the perfect time for the annual Historic Pullman House Tour. Get an inside look at private residences normally not open to the public from Saturday, Oct. 12 to Sunday, Oct. 13.
As a company town, Pullman’s residential homes were built to accommodate employees at every tier of the business, from executive mansions to workers’ cottages. During the tour, private homes representing each type of residence are open to the public, with guided tours on the history of the town and its residents. There's also a Candelight House Walk on Dec. 9, 2019.
This is a popular event, so consider booking your ticket to the Historic Pullman House Tour in advance.
Pay a visit to the Pullman Porter Museum
The success of the Pullman Rail Car Company owes a lot to the highly trained, mostly African American porters who attended to guests on long cross-country journeys. The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum details the work of these porters and their contributions to the labor movement, like creation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) union.
Led by Asa Philip Randolph, the BSCP union was the first African American labor union in the U.S. to win a collective bargaining agreement. The achievement was not only a victory for Pullman porters, but a significant moment for both the labor movement and the civil rights movement.
The museum is open April through Dec. 15th from Thursday through Sunday, so plan ahead. Tickets are $5, a bargain considering the museum's rich offerings.
Explore the Pullman National Monument
The Pullman National Monument is one of the area's biggest attractions. President Obama declared the Pullman historic district a U.S. National Monument in 2015, making it Chicago's first and only unit of the National Park Service. Before that, Pullman was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1971.
Aside from the stunning architecture, the monument also has two excellent public parks perfect for a sightseeing stroll. Arcade Park is a breezy 1.37 acres of neatly landscaped gardens just south of the Pullman National Monument and Pullman Park spans another acre northwest of the monument. Both are free and open to the public from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Insider tip: Grab coffee and a sandwich at The Pullman Cafe, which uses ingredients grown right in Pullman by urban greenhouse Gotham Greens.
Take a tour at Argus Brewery
George Pullman tried to discourage drinking in his community by limiting bars to just one in the Florence Hotel, which only served company executives and their guests. More than a century later, Argus Brewery welcomes everyone from the Pullman community and beyond to come enjoy a drink and a tour of their facility. The historic building once housed the horses that distributed beer for famous brewer Joseph E. Schlitz.
Owned by a father-and-son brewing team, this beloved Pullman brewery offers a popular 90-minute tour where you can learn about the beer-making process, the story of the brewery, and the history of the neighborhood — all while sampling the latest Argus brews. Tours book up fast, so make sure to plan ahead.
Experience the new One Eleven Food Hall
One Eleven Food Hall is part of a recent wave of cool food halls opening in Chicago. This one offers three unique stops — Laine’s Bake Shop (with tons of sweet and savory options), Exquisite To Go (with dishes meant to highlight culture through cuisine) and Majani (vegan soul food even carnivores will love) each have their own stalls and share an open dining space.
Each restaurant is owned by a local entrepreneur and the shared space allows them to test out new recipes and build their fanbase without the overhead costs of maintaining individual brick and mortar shops. And it also means you get to try a whole bunch of delicious, locally made food under one roof.
No matter how you spend your day in Pullman, two things are virtually guaranteed: You’re going to meet people with an earnest love for their neighborhood and you’re going to learn something you didn’t know about Chicago’s place in national history.