December 7, 2022

The Pike Historic Site is now a stone’s throw from national park status

BARRY — A nearly forgotten strip of Pike County land that was once home to the first town in the United States plated and legally registered by an African American is now just a Senate vote away from national park status.

The significance of the 80 acres once known as New Philadelphia was not lost on a group that more than a decade ago formed the New Philadelphia Association to raise awareness of the city. Along the way, those efforts attracted a champion in Congressman Darin LaHood, whose work helped get New Philadelphia listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Historic Landmark.

In February 2021, LaHood introduced a bipartisan measure to place the site under the National Park Service. It’s a move he says would provide the tools, resources and expertise “necessary to elevate the site to its full potential”.

The resolution passed the full House on Monday unanimously.

“It is imperative that sites like New Philadelphia be preserved for years to come so that future generations can better understand their important history as well as the lessons that history offers us,” LaHood said Monday upstairs. bedroom.

New Philadelphia was founded in 1836 by Frank McWorter, known as Free Frank. He had traveled to Illinois, which did not allow slavery, earning money mining saltpeter. He bought his wife’s freedom in 1817 and his own freedom in 1819.

In 1831 he established a family farm about 20 miles from the Mississippi River in Hadley Township, Pike County. Using the land for farming, he was able to purchase another parcel, and in 1836, 42 acres became 144 60-by-120-foot lots known as New Philadelphia, according to the National Park Service.

Blacks and whites lived together in the colony until most of the land returned to agriculture around the turn of the century.

McWorter died in 1854. Records indicate that by this time he had purchased the freedom of “16 enslaved persons for $14,000, a sum equal to hundreds of thousands of dollars in the currency of ‘today’, according to the National Park Service.

“Since my election, I have been proud to work with my congressional colleagues, the community of Pike County and the New Philadelphia Association to properly preserve and recognize the site of New Philadelphia,” LaHood said. “Frank McWorter’s story is an important part of Illinois and our nation’s history and the Pike County site deserves historic recognition. (Monday’s) passage is an important step in that recognition, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this legislation.

Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth introduced a companion resolution last year in the Senate to place it under the care of the National Park System, which oversees about 400 culturally significant sites across the United States. .

A vote has not yet been scheduled in the Senate.

New Philadelphia Association President Philip Bradshaw said the efforts of LaHood and others were appreciated.

“Preserving the site of the city of New Philadelphia is not just good for western Illinois, but good for all of Illinois, the nation, and future generations,” he said. “Having New Philadelphia as part of the National Park System will secure the story of how people of different racial backgrounds lived and worked together during a time of great racial strife in our country. It will help inspire future generations. .”