ABOVE PHOTO: The ruins of the former Pullman train car factory in the Pullman District.
By Renée S. Gordon
Ford’s 1908 Model T is widely regarded as the first automobile that was affordable for the ordinary worker at a cost of $850. As Ford perfected his assembly line technique the time it took to assemble a complete car went down from an initial production of 11 cars per month to 93-minutes per car six years later, as did the price, to as low as $250 per auto in the mid-1920s. The automobile industry grew and ownership blossomed, but now that people owned cars it began to become apparent that there were few good roads on which to drive them. Of the more than two million miles of road very few, outside of metropolitan areas, were more than wide dirt paths.
Carl G. Fisher, one of the founding partners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, realized the need for an improved road system and came up with the idea a transcontinental roadway in 1912. The gravel Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway was estimated to cost $10-million, funded by donations, and be completed in three years. In July of 1913, the name was officially changed to the Lincoln Highway.
In 1925, the U.S. Government created a numbered highway system and did away with road names but the 3,389 mile Lincoln Highway’s fame was not so easily diminished. The route, from Times Square in N.Y. to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, is now numbered U.S.1, 30, 530, 50 and 40 and the Illinois portion is lined with 16 Interpretive Gazebos and a series of 10 by 20-ft. hand painted murals that visually relate a portion of the highway’s story. Historic restaurants, stores and sites also serve as reminders that you are traveling one of America’s first great routes. www.drivelincolnhighway.com
The Illinois Lincoln Highway National Scenic Byway travels 179 miles through the state and 25 miles of it traverses Chicago Southland an area south and west of Chicago comprised of more than 60 culturally and historically individual municipalities. A great way to explore the region is by hitting the highway to see just what Chicago Southland has to offer. You can download a free “Chicago & Beyond” visitor guide. www.chicagoandbeyond.com
One good road leads to another and you can easily access the Northern Illinois Wine Trail from U.S. 30. The trail is divided into three loops with a total of 36 wineries and vineyards. The experiences run the gamut from urban Chicago to pastoral settings. www.northernillinoiswinetrail.com
George Mortimer Pullman was born in New York and became a cabinetmaker by trade. In 1857, he designed a luxury railroad car, “The Pioneer,” for overnight travelers. Pullman and partner Ben Field began producing The Pullman Sleeping Car in 1865 and in May of that year, the addition of a sleeping coach to Lincoln’s funeral train substantially increased their business.
In the late 1860s, he founded the Pullman Palace Car Company to manufacture his sleeping cars and the newly introduced dining cars. The Palace Coaches were just that, palaces on wheels, outfitted with leather and brass furnishings, chandeliers and a heating and cooling system. Gourmet cuisine was offered and the service was exemplary. Each car cost more than five times the cost of a standard railcar to build.
Pullman, a town established for his workers, was founded in 1880 on land George Pullman purchased 14 miles south of Chicago for $8 million. He hired architect Solon Beman and landscape architect Nathan Barrett to create one of America’s first model company towns for workers of all income levels. Pullman provided an ideal working and living environment complete with houses with indoor plumbing, a nondenominational church, and an arcade that was one of the first indoor malls.
A self-guided tour of the Pullman State Historic Site begins in the single story visitor center. There are vintage photographs, antiques, Parlor Car memorabilia and a brief introductory film. The homes on the tour are more than 100 years old and vary in size and architectural style. Do not miss the Greenstone Church constructed of a serpentine stone that is no longer available. The site is a National Historic Landmark (NHL). www.pullman-museum.org
The center has a small display on the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), an African American union founded in 1925 and led by A. Philip Randolph. The BSCP earned a significant place in both black and labor history as, after 12 years of struggle and negotiation, the first African-American labor union to sign a collective bargaining agreement with a major corporation. In depth information is available at the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum website. www.aphiliprandolphmuseum.com
Twice annually Thornton Quarry, one of the world’s biggest aggregate quarries, offers tours. These tours are so popular that the next available opening is in 2016 but the quarry, “The Grand Canyon of the Southside,” is visible from the road. Thornton Quarry is really three quarries connected by tunnels and totals 1.5-miles long, half -a-mile wide, and 400 ft. deep. Fossils have been recovered from the site as well as a meteorite more than 4 billion years old. www.thornton60476.com
Homewood Village began as a railroad town and is now a suburb of Chicago and a destination for railroad buffs. Homewood Rail Park and Viewing Platform provides free observation of a working yard with three rail lines. The 1926 Spanish revival-style train station is still active and on-site there is a refurbished engine and caboose on display.
The village is also home to a series of trompe-l’oeil murals by Richard Haas. These realistic artworks are painted on area buildings and are site specific. A railroad themed mural is located adjacent to the railroad station. www.village.homewood.il.us
The village of Park Forest was established in 1949. It was the first planned post-WWII suburb and it has won numerous awards for its outstanding quality of life. www.villageofparkforest.com
PHOTO: 1883 view of Pullman
Park Forest Railfan Park is the location of four-acre “Double Wye” cloverleaf railroad interchange, one of few in the world. Within the 1.4-acre park stands an elevated platform, 200-ft. long and 35-ft. high, from which visitors can watch between 15 and 40 trains pass daily. Around 15 trains daily will make the half mile loop that is a favorite of rail enthusiasts. The surrounding terrain is landscaped to represent a prairie with native trees and shrubs. Interpretive signs are on the grounds as well as a restored Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad #531 Caboose.
Flossmoor is an absolutely enchanting small town with Scottish street names to showcase the heritage of the name Flossmoor, “dew on the flowers.” The Flossmoor Sculpture Gardens were founded in 1998 and reflect the community’s support of the arts. The gardens feature eight permanent sculptures, by internationally famous artists, and two that are displayed on a two to three year rotational basis. www.flossmoor.org/art
No one should drive pass Flossmoor without stopping in the Flossmoor Restaurant & Brewery. Situated inside an original restored 1906 train station the food and drinks are exceptional. It was designated the Best Small Brewpub at the Great American Beer Festival in 2006 and has won medals in the World’s Beer Cup. www.flossmoorstation.com
A Lincoln Highway Interpretive Gazebo and Interpretive Mural are in the village. The mural depicts a full color portrait of Lincoln in reference to the name of the highway.
Pottawatomie Indians inhabited the area that is today’s Frankfort until around 1840. The village, primarily a rural German settlement, was founded in 1855 and incorporated 24 years later. As if preserved in amber Frankfort is a charming town reminiscent of the 1890s, with a downtown district filled with unique shops and restaurants. www.shophistoricfrankfort.com
Frankfort General Store is a smooth blend of the old and the new. You can find items from your childhood as well as modern trinkets and souvenirs.
One of my personal favorites is The Pickwick Society Tea Room, the state’s number one tearoom and one of the top five in the nation. The tearoom is in an 1855 building that was once Frankfort’s first hotel. The name of the shop is an homage to Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”, as are the names of the menu items. While there you can sip a cup of tea, dine and shop for gifts and antiques. www.pickwicktearoom.com
Kidswork Children’s Museum is located on the lower level of the Trolley Barn, an indoor shopping mall. The two-story museum is designed for children up to 8-years old and is totally interactive. www.kidsworkchildrensmuseum.org
Breidert Green is the heart of downtown Frankfort. It is the scene of displays, festivals and events year round. www.frankfortchamber.com
The Hilton Chicago/Oak Lawn & Conference Center is an excellent hotel choice for a trip to this area. It offers luxurious accommodations, fine dining and fitness facilities as well as a central location. It is 4 miles from Midway Airport and accessible to downtown Chicago. www.oaklawn.hilton.com
You can still reach Chicago by automobile and train, and now it is even be reached by airplane. No matter which mode of transportation you use the planning tools are all available online. www.visitchicagosouthland.com
I wish you smooth travels!
Did you know that Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania Museum has been in possession of the largest Egyptian Sphinx in this hemisphere for the past 100 years? You can hang out with the 15 ton Sphinx throughout the month of October and participate in celebratory activities. The main festivities will take place on National Archaeology Day, Saturday, October 19, 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm. Some activities require pre-registration. www.penn.museum/sphinx
Baltimore’s Family Reunion Expo will take place on September 28, 2013, from 12-8 PM, at Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park. The focus of the expo will be on all aspects of planning a family reunion and will include food tastings, genealogy experts, city tours and celebrities Clifton Davis, Bern NaDette Stanis and Chico DeBarge. Admission is $5 zbut if you “Like” the Expo on Facebook, Facebook.com/BaltimoreReunionExpo, you will receive a code for free admission. www.BaltimoreReunionExpo.com.
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library will present “Costumes of Downton Abbey” from March 1, 2014 until January 4, 2015. The exhibition will showcase approximately 40 costumes from the award-winning miniseries enhanced with photographs and vignettes and the addition of special programs, events and lectures. A visit is a must for fans of the program. www.winterthur.org
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