Park Advocates in Chicago See Future Possibilities in the Past at Lowell, Massachusetts

Advocates working to establish a national park in Chicago enjoy the Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts.

Advocates working to establish a national park in Chicago enjoy the Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts. National Park Service photo.

Chicago’s south side is home to some of America’s most fascinating and important stories. The Pullman Historic District is where, in 1880, George M. Pullman built the country’s first planned model industrial town. It was also home to the nation’s first African-American union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the pivotal “Pullman Strike” of 1894. These important “firsts” speak to Pullman’s national significance and why so many Chicago leaders have come together to work to establish it as the city’s first national park.

The clock tower in the historic Pullman District of ChicagoLast week, NPCA led a group of Chicagoans to Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts to see some of the possibilities for Pullman.

For more than 30 years, the people of Lowell have worked to preserve and interpret the history of this New England mill town, once known for its “mill girls” and immigrant laborers. The sights and sounds of Lowell would lead you to believe that you’ve set foot in the mid-19th century. The old brick mill buildings, the flowing waters of the Merrimack Canal, and the humming of century-old looms make Lowell a living exhibit telling the stories of what was once America’s booming textile industry. Riding the trolley through downtown Lowell and speaking with business and community groups about the spirit of cooperation provided the Pullman group with the ability to see what we are working toward together.

Imagine the possibility to breathe life into Pullman’s large factory shops, to hear the tick-tock of the administration building’s large clock tower, and to pave the way for hundreds of thousands of visitors to come each year and experience the history of labor and industry. Pullman shares an important piece of American history and establishing a national park there will ensure these many stories are told for years to come.

We gained a ton of knowledge from our visit to Lowell and can better envision a national park at Pullman. Now the real work begins.

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About the Author

LeAaron Foley is senior outreach coordinator for NPCA's Midwest Regional Office

  • Thad Colon

    The campaign for a national park in Chicago is being pushed by a coalition of preservationists, including Lynn McClure, Midwest director of the National Parks Conservation Association; David Peterson Jr., president of the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum; and Pullman residents, including Arthur Pearson, director of Chicago programs at the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, and Shymanski, president of the Historic Pullman Foundation.