CHICAGO | Members of Illinois' congressional delegation say they're introducing federal legislation to create a national park in Chicago's historic Pullman neighborhood.
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, along with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, announced Friday they're introducing a proposal that would give Pullman national park status.
“By elevating Pullman to National Park status, our bill will provide preservation and conservation opportunities for the site, increase tourism and facilitate job creation on Chicago’s South Side,” Durbin said at a news conference Friday.
Industrialist George Pullman founded the neighborhood on Chicago's South Side around 111th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue in 1880. It was known for manufacturing Pullman Palace Sleeper Cars, which were considered the most luxurious rail car for almost a century.
The neighborhood also was the birthplace of the African-American labor movement.
The National Parks Conservation Association says an urban national park in Chicago would "bring new stories to the National Park System."
And the National Trust for Historic Preservation called the site "one of America's most significant historic places."
For Durbin, Pullman isn’t just a story of passenger railroad cars or a labor strike in 1894. It’s also a significant civil rights story.
That's because there once was a time when working as a porter on board a railroad passenger train was one of the best jobs that an African-American man could aspire to.
Durbin also said the fact people used to rely on trains to travel rather than airplanes is a worthwhile part of our history.
A national park for the area would include the remains of the factory north of 111th Street, including the old clock tower visible throughout the Pullman neighborhood, along with many of the homes and the old Florence Hotel to the south where factory workers lived in the 19th century when Pullman was a company town instead of a Chicago neighborhood.
Kirk said he believes Republicans in the Senate will back the idea despite its desire by Democratic politicians.
“Pullman has an inspiring story to tell,” he said. “It’s the story of a great industrialist and hardworking laborers who together built a product that revolutionized railroad travel and helped develop a strong working class.
“As we move forward into the Digital Age, it would be fitting for Congress to honor America’s Industrial Age by creating a Pullman National Park,” Kirk said.
Senate aides said a Pullman National Park would create about 356 new jobs and provide $49 million in economic benefits from the roughly 300,000 people who would visit the site annually. Durbin said the number of visitors would be comparable to Illinois’ one other national park — the Abraham Lincoln home in downtown Springfield.
Although Durbin also threw in a plug for putting an eventual Barack Obama presidential library and museum in Chicago by saying of a national park, “It would be a natural stomping ground for people who come to visit the Obama library.”
Lynn McClure, a Midwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said she hopes political approval could be obtained in time for a Pullman National Park to be up and running by 2016, which is the centennial year for the National Parks Service.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.