Pullman Revitalized

On 111th Street big houses stand. Stairs led up to Victorian style porches. Walking past into the neighborhood row homes begin with brick facades and green or red alternating wooden porches. Trees line the sidewalks to provide a healthy amount of shade, little front yards are cared for to the owner’s taste. As you walk down that same street, the houses grow smaller and smaller. Slight changes in window moldings and brick patterns to avoid looking like the now-a-days preferred cookie cutter house. Some modern changes added into the twist, although these happened with time and not as George Pullman’s grand design. Deeper into the neighborhood homes begin sharing porches, until lovers’ row (homes once meant for the newly wed) where instead of two homes sharing a porch it was three. Pullman company provided these homes for workers and took care of everything from landscaping and trash to ensuring that workers rent was reserved from the checks they received.

Image from New York Public Library

Employees were meant to walk down those streets and dream of moving up in the company, of affording one of the nicer houses and maybe one day become a part of the company board and owning one of those big fancy Victorian style homes. Then the dream ended, and employees clocked in for long days of work just to make ends meet. Pullman provided everything. Though for all that the image of beauty and cleanliness was sold, the town was still surrounded by industry.

This industry was unweighted by the rules of modern-day pollution standards and industrial waste surrounded the town. Back then what companies could do with waste was essentially up to what was the cheapest way to do so at the time. There were little to no regulations as to what someone could allow to seep into the very soils people walked and lived upon. The town was clean and showcased some beginnings of sustainable practices, such as using waste to fertilize food and having all possible necessities within walking reach. This was limited by what industry allowed to contaminate the air and ground.

The State and National Park site is located on what we now call a brownfield. An area where industry once laid, commercial, agricultural, or otherwise and was somewhat or completely careless about what touched the soils and waters beneath. Lake Vista, now a field of clover and grasses, used to be not just for the entertainment of the employees of Pullman Company; it provided much needed water to the Corliss engine, which powered Pullman’s operations. The ground surrounding the administration building that now serves as a visitor center was contaminated by the works of the late 1800s. Together the EPA, State, and Federal, pitched in to remediate the grounds in a bid to bring back a little life and health to the area. Where workshops once laid a cap of soil protects not just old historical foundations, but visitor health. Pollinator gardens work to bring back diversity of wildlife to the area, attracting birds and insects and providing a wonderful view walking in to work every day.

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