Pullman And The ‘Columbia’
The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
George M. Pullman was born in Brocton on March 3, 1831. As a young boy, he lived with his family in Albion, near the Erie Canal. Here he learned his father’s techniques for moving buildings. He also experienced trying to sleep in a seat in a railroad passenger car. Leaving home as a young man he was involved in many different pursuits. Pullman developed a railroad sleeper car and finished the first one in 1864.
After President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Pullman provided the sleeper car to transport Lincoln’s body from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Ill. This gained national attention for his sleeper car, and orders poured in.
Pullman’s Palace Car Company was incorporated in 1867. That year Pullman introduced his hotel on wheels in that the sleeper car had an attached kitchen and dining car. The cars were owned by the company and leased to the railroads. Eventually Pullman provided other services on the cars such as collecting tickets, dispatching wires, fetching sandwiches, mending torn clothes and converting the day coaches to sleepers. For these jobs he hired African-American freedmen as porters. They became Pullman porters, hired by the company. In 1880, the operations were moved to a site south of Chicago, and a company town was built. Employees of the company had to live in Pullman, Ill. It was a planned community and tightly run by George Pullman and his company.
The company was successful. In 1891, the company began building trolley cars for the many transit companies that were providing trolley service in cities. An early collaboration with George Sessions produced a double-decker trolley car. Boston apparently had one according to an image on the Internet. At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, a double-decker trolley car was on display. Almet Broadhead, of Jamestown, purchased that car for $7,000, planning to use it on the trolley line from Jamestown to the large hotels in Lakewood. It soon became the favored car on the line that ran to Celoron Park in the summer. Named the “Columbia,” it served the Jamestown Street Railway Company from June 1893 until about 1913. At that time the tracks along Jones & Gifford Avenue were raised to avoid flood waters, and the result was that the top of the “Columbia” was too close to the electric lines. George Pullman visited Jamestown on June 18, 1897, and rode on the “Columbia.” He was pleased with the operation, and it is said that he gave each crew member a $5 tip.
The country experienced an economic downturn in 1893, and the Pullman company saw the demand for their cars and services decrease. To save the company, Pullman reduced wages, laid many people off but did not reduce rents and the costs of other services in his company town. Employees staged a strike which became a significant part of labor history. As a result of the strike, the company was forced to divest the company town of Pullman. It became a neighborhood in Chicago. George Pullman died in October 1897. The company built its last car for Amtrak in 1982. Eventually in 1897 its remaining assets were absorbed by Bombardier.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County’s history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
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If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.