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Fri, 09.16.1836

New Philadelphia, Illinois founded

*New Philadelphia, Illinois is celebrated on this date in 1836.  This is one of many original Black Town sites in America.  The now-vanished town of "New Philadelphia", Illinois is located near the city of Barry, in Pike County.   It’s first town in the United States platted and registered by a Black man before the American Civil War.

The founder Free Frank McWorter was a former slave who was able to save money from work and his own business to purchase the freedom of his wife, himself and 13 members of his family in Kentucky.  He thought the location would benefit from the commerce along the planned Illinois and Michigan Canal. The original town plan consisted of 144 lots in a 12 x 12 square, including 22 crisscrossing named streets. McWorter officially registered his town with government authorities and sold the lots.

The town was integrated, albeit with some typical 19th-century segregated facilities, such as cemeteries, there was one integrated public school.  New Philadelphia had become one of the stations along the Underground Railroad for shepherding escaped slaves to Canada. With emancipation, more settlers arrived in New Philadelphia. Its population peaked at close to 160 shortly after 1865.  In 1869, the Hannibal and Naples Railroad was built. It bypassed the town on the north; a station was built in nearby Barry, soon to be followed by transit and commerce.

New Philadelphia rapidly declined in population thereafter. A small number of residents turned to farming a portion of the former townsite. Such changes and abandonment were not unusual for U.S. small towns in the late 19th century, especially those bypassed by changing transportation facilities.  In 1885 a portion of the town was legally dissolved and reverted to farmland. Modern archaeological studies have indicated the area was inhabited through the 1920s. By the late 20th century, all vestiges of New Philadelphia had vanished save fragments of glass and pottery, and traces of the town's gravel streets.  In 2003, a three-year excavation began with a US$226,500 grant from the National Science Foundation. It was coordinated by the University of Maryland, College Park, with the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. By 2006, the archaeology team had surveyed 14 of the 144 lots.  

The town site was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on August 11, 2005 and designated a National Historic Landmark on January 16, 2009 because of the significance of its history and archaeology.  In June 2010, Aaron Schock, a US Representative from Illinois, introduced bipartisan legislation to direct the Department of Interior to study the New Philadelphia townsite for possible designation as a National Park. If approved, it would be the first such park in Illinois.  On February 28, 2013, Schock introduced the legislation again (the New Philadelphia, Illinois, Study Act (H.R. 930; 113th Congress)) after its failure to become law in any previous Congress.  

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