New National Park in Talks for Illinois

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New Philadelphia

The National Park Service (NPS) wants to hear from Illinois residents whether it should recommend to Congress that a historical site in rural western Illinois be added to the national park system. Featured in the spring 2016 edition of Partners magazine, the NPS plans to hold an open house on Wednesday, May 11 as part of its “resource study” on what once was New Philadelphia. The Pike County Farm Bureau will host the event from 6 to 8 p.m. at its headquarters in Pittsfield.

Frank McWhorter, an enslaved man from Kentucky, bought his freedom in the 1830s, ventured to Illinois and established the town of New Philadelphia near Barry. The NPS says it’s the first town known to be platted and officially registered by an African-American before the Civil War.

The U.S. Congress has charged NPS to:

  • evaluate the national significance of the site
  • examine the suitability and feasibility of adding it to the national park system.

“At the conclusion of the study, NPS will forward our findings to the Secretary of Interior,” said Cameron Sholly, the park system’s Midwest regional director, in its spring newsletter. “The Secretary will make a recommendation for the site, and submit the study and recommendation to Congress for their consideration.”

Some Illinois farmers and other area residents have been working to preserve the site for decades.

“Both whites and blacks lived together here for over a hundred years with little or no problems at all,” said Philip Bradshaw, Griggsville farmer and president of the local New Philadelphia Association during an event held at the site last summer. “I hope, in some way, this helps relationships among people in the United States.”

New Philadelphia

While not much remains, the site now has augmented reality stations throughout that allow use of a smartphone and tablet app to bring the 19th century town back to life for 21st century visitors.

“The story here is so incredible, so interesting,” says Bostonian Jon Amakawa, who developed the augmented reality mobile app. “It really combines so many different aspects of American history.”

New Philadelphia has already made it on the National Register of Historic Places and named a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior.

The open house will be held at the Pike County Farm Bureau, 1301 E. Washington St. in Pittsfield. If you can’t attend the open house in person, the NPS welcomes your comments online at this link: http://bit.ly/NewPhilComments.

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