National Parks in Illinois: Politics, Commerce, and Religious Freedom

Pullman National Monument
Old Pullman Factory, Chicago.

stevegeer / Getty Images

National parks in Illinois are dedicated to the experiences of some of its Euro-American people who were involved in the politics, commerce, and religious practices of the 19th and 20th centuries.

National Parks in Illinois Map
National Park Services Map of the National Parks in Illinois. National Park Service

The National Park Service maintains two national parks in Illinois, which receive over 200,000 visitors each year. The parks honor the history of the 14th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, the Pullman Company, and labor leader A. Philip Randolph. Learn about Illinois' two national parks and another significant landmark located in the state: the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Lincoln Home National Historic Site
The 14th US President Abraham Lincoln lived in this house between 1839 and 1861, now part of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois. Matt Champlin / Moment Unreleased / Getty Images

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, in south central Illinois, was the home of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1864), where he raised his family, began his legal career, and continued his political life. He and his family lived here from 1839 until February 11, 1861, when he began his inaugural journey to Washington for his first day as president, on March 4, 1861.

Abraham Lincoln moved from the small town of New Salem to Springfield, the state's the capital, in 1837 to pursue his career in law and politics. There, he mingled with other politicians, and among that crowd, he met Mary Todd (1818–1882), whom he married in 1842. In 1844, they bought the house at Eighth and Jackson Streets in Springfield as a young couple with a child—Robert Todd Lincoln (1843–1926), the only one of their four sons who lived to adulthood. They would live here until Lincoln was elected president in 1861.

While he lived in the house, Lincoln's political career took off, first as a Whig and then as a Republican. He was a U.S. Representative between 1847–1849; he acted as a circuit rider (essentially an itinerant judge/lawyer on horseback serving 15 counties) for the 8th Illinois Circuit from 1849–1854. In 1858, Lincoln ran for the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat who had helped to engineer the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was a failed political solution to enslavement. It was in that election, when Lincoln met Douglas in a series of debates, that Lincoln gained his national reputation. 

Douglas lost the debates but won the senatorial election. Lincoln went on to receive the presidential nomination at the Chicago Republican convention in 1860 and then won the election, becoming the 14th U.S. president with 40 percent of the vote.

Civil War print of Abraham Lincoln riding on horseback as a crowd cheers
Vintage Civil War print of Abraham Lincoln riding on horseback, as a crowd cheers. It reads, Abraham Lincolns Return Home, After His Successful Campaign For The Presidency Of The United States, In October, 1860. John Parrot / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site preserves four and a half square blocks of the Springfield neighborhood in which Lincoln lived. The 12-acre park includes his fully restored residence, which visitors can tour according to a set schedule. The park also includes 13 restored or partially restored houses of his friends and neighbors, some currently used as offices for the park. Outdoor markers create a self-guided tour through the neighborhood, and two of the houses (the Dean House and Arnold House) contain exhibits and are open to the public.

Pullman National Monument

Pullman National Monument
The Clock Tower Administration Building at the Pullman Factory Site, National Monument, Chicago, Illinois. Raymond Boyd / Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty Images

The Pullman National Monument commemorates the first planned industrial community in the United States. It also honors the entrepreneur George M. Pullman (1831–1897), who invented the Pullman railroad cars and built the city, as well as labor organizers Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926) and A. Philip Randolph (1889–1879), who organized the laborers and residents for better working and living conditions.  

The Pullman neighborhood, located on Lake Calumet in Chicago, was the brainchild of George Pullman, who beginning in 1864 made railroad cars for the comfort of travelers—cars which were too expensive for the railroads to purchase. Instead, Pullman leased the cars and the services of the employees who ran them to the various rail companies. Although most of Pullman's manufacturing employees were White, the porters he hired for the Pullman cars were exclusively Black, many of whom were formerly enslaved people.  

In 1882, Pullman bought 4,000 acres of land and erected a factory complex and residential housing for his (White) workers. The houses included indoor plumbing and were relatively spacious for the day. He charged the workers rent for his buildings, taken out of their at-first fairly comfortable paychecks, and enough to ensure a six percent return on the company's investment. By 1883, there were 8,000 people living in Pullman. Less than half of Pullman residents were native-born, most being immigrants from Scandinavia, Germany, England, and Ireland. None were African American. 

On the surface, the community was beautiful, sanitary, and orderly. However, the workers could not own the properties they lived in, and as the owner of a company town, Pullman set steep prices for rent, heat, gas, and water. Pullman also controlled the "ideal community" to the point that all churches were multi-denominational, and saloons were forbidden. Food and supplies were offered at company stores, again at steep prices. Many workers moved out from the authoritarian strictures of the community, but discontent continued to grow, especially when wages dropped but rents did not. Many became destitute.

Conditions at the company site resulted in widespread strikes for higher wages and better living conditions, which brought the world's attention to the realities of the situation in so-called model towns. The Pullman Strike of 1894 was led by Debs and the American Railway Union (ARU), which ended when Debs was thrown into jail. The African American porters were not unionized until the 1920s, led by Randolph, and although they did not strike, Randolph was able to negotiate higher salaries, better job security, and increased protection for workers' rights through grievance procedures. 

The Pullman National Monument includes a visitor's center, the Pullman State Historic Site (including the Pullman factory complex and the Hotel Florence), and the National A. Philip Randolph Porter Museum

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail (Nauvoo Historic District)
1962 photograph of the home of Joseph and Emma Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois. Owned by the LDS, located in the historic district of Nauvoo, and where the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail begins. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail follows the path made by members of the religious sect, also known as the Mormons or the Church of the Latter Day Saints, as they fled persecution to their permanent home in Salt Lake City, Utah. The trail crosses five states (Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming), and National Park Service input into these locations varies with the state. 

Illinois is where the trek began, in the town of Nauvoo, on the Mississippi River in eastern Illinois. Nauvoo was the Mormon headquarters for seven years, from 1839–1846. The Mormon religion began in New York state in 1827, where the first leader Joseph Smith said he discovered a set of gold plates which were inscribed with a set of philosophical tenets. Smith based what would become the Book of Mormon on those tenets and began collecting believers and then searching for a safe haven for them to practice in. They were ejected from many communities on their way west. 

In Nauvoo, although they were accepted at first, the Mormons were persecuted in part because they had become quite powerful: they employed clannish and exclusionary business practices; there were accusations of theft; and Joseph Smith had political aspirations that did not sit well with the locals. Smith and other church elders began, secretly, to practice polygamy, and, when the news leaked out in an opposition newspaper, Smith had the press destroyed. Dissension within and outside of the church over polygamy also arose, and Smith and the elders were arrested and thrown into jail at Carthage. 

Farms in Nauvoo were attacked in an effort to drive out the Mormons; and on June 27, 1844, a mob broke into the jail and killed Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. The new leader was Brigham Young, who made the plans and started the process of moving his people into the Great Basin of Utah to establish a safe haven. Between April of 1846 and July of 1847, an estimated 3,000 settlers moved—700 died along the way. Over 70,000 are said to have moved to Salt Lake City between 1847–1868 when the transcontinental railroad was established from Omaha to Utah. 

A 1,000-acre historic district in Nauvoo includes a visitor's center, the temple (rebuilt in 2000-2002 to original specifications), the Joseph Smith historic site, the Carthage jail, and thirty other historic sites, such as residences, shops, schools, cemetery, post office, and the cultural hall.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "National Parks in Illinois: Politics, Commerce, and Religious Freedom." ThoughtCo, Nov. 21, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, November 21). National Parks in Illinois: Politics, Commerce, and Religious Freedom. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "National Parks in Illinois: Politics, Commerce, and Religious Freedom." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).