Chicago is well-known for its architecture, cultural diversity and museums. But outside the city in Chicago Southland, there’s much more to discover. From the Pullman National Monument where so much of our country’s labor and civil rights movement began to the Dixie Highway Murals that showcase life in another era to viewing platforms over extensive railroad tracks to delight rail fans, there’s something for everyone. And, it’s all just a few miles from the heart of Chicago easily accessible by train or car. From eateries to murals and museums, here are some of my favorite experiences in Chicago Southland.
Parks, Platforms and Brews for Rail Fans
As the crossroads of America, the Chicago Southland has an abundance of train action for rail fans. Head to the Park Forest Rail Fan Park to watch the Canadian National Railway and Metra trains pass by from a 40-foot elevated and wheelchair accessible platform. This is one of the rare places to see a double wye rail interchange…which looks something like a cloverleaf interchange for trains.
The Homewood Railroad Platform and Park allows viewing of trains with live switchyard audio and features a restored locomotive and caboose. Railway history murals adorn the walls of an underground walkway leading to the park.
The train theme continues at Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery housed in an old Illinois central rail station. On the menu you’ll find a unique selection of local craft brews—also train themed. Try the award-winning Pullman Ale or the Gandy Dancer Honey Lager named after those dedicated railroad track workers.
Outdoor Art and Historic Highways
The Dixie Highway runs through Homewood showcasing 14 Richard Haas murals depicting life from days gone by. Along a 25-mile stretch of the Lincoln Highway interpretive gazebos and murals tell the story of America’s first cross-country road. Jay Allen, owner of ShawCraft Signs created the interpretive mural series and left secrets behind for you to discover.
Governors State University in University Park is home to the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park. Placed throughout the 100 acres of prairie land are 29 sculptures including landscaped theme sculptures and my favorite, Paul Bunyan. Towering over the landscape, the gentle giant stands 30 feet tall. He’s hunched over as if he’s carrying the weight of the world and dragging his massive axe.
Oak Lawn Children’s Museum
If you have the kids or grandkids in tow, don’t miss the Oak Lawn Children’s Museum. Exhibits teach the little ones about dairy products, construction, science and more. Highlights include "We the People”—an exhibit focusing on unity, friendship, helping others and patriotism. Two World Trade Center beams salvaged from the 9/11 attack are on display as the focal point of the exhibit.
Pullman National Monument
The world’s first industrial town is now a national monument. Walk through history along the streets of Pullman lined with maroon row houses. Pullman was voted the “World’s Most Perfect Town” in 1896 before things took a turn for the worse after George Pullman reduced the wages of his laborers. But that incident ignited a change in civil rights and the birth of the American Railway Union. Be sure to stop in the Pullman Historic Foundation Visitors Center to learn how the town bounced back and how the residents created a better life for future generations.
Overnight at La Banque
In the center of the Village of Homewood is La Banque. A former bank converted to a luxury boutique hotel, La Banque is an ideal home base for exploring the Chicago Southland communities. Re-purposed safe deposit boxes are incorporated into the décor as a nod to the building’s past life. The bank vault door signed by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover is prominently displayed in the hotel’s restaurant, La Voute Bistro and Bar—a French contemporary restaurant featuring farm to table cuisine.
Have you visited the Chicago Southland communities?
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