Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative pledges financial support over 10 years to New Philadelphia

Caption/Description: New Philadelphia Association President Phil Bradshaw, left, accepts a check in the amount of $7,500 from Jim Gay of the Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative Monday afternoon in the Burdick Center at the New Philadelphia Historic Site.
Posted: Feb. 13, 2012 1:12 pm Updated: Feb. 27, 2012 6:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

BARRY, Ill. -- A financial pledge will mean some big changes at a Pike County site boasting plenty of history but little for people to see.

New Philadelphia "basically is a farm field with some cabins moved in, not original but of the era," New Philadelphia Association President Phil Bradshaw said.

But Bradshaw hopes to see a visitor's kiosk and the beginnings of a walking trail in place by June thanks to financial support announced Monday afternoon from Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative. The Winchester-based co-op pledged $7,500 each year for 10 years to develop physical structures and improvements at the historic site.

IREC General Manager Bruce Giffin and board members "felt an investment in this project would go a long ways in helping the local economic potential in the long run, the organization and help develop the site," said Shawn Rennecker, IREC's economic development director.

The co-op's donation will be leveraged by support from John Wood Community College through in-kind labor support through its construction trades program.

"Any additional leverage that could be secured based off the resources we have already would be fantastic," Rennecker said. "We saw the need here. We'll start it off here and see what else potentially comes in."

The pledge provides a big boost to the association working to preserve and promote New Philadelphia, the first community platted by an African-American, Free Frank McWorter.

Support from the community is vital as the site works toward designation as a national park. "It shows that everybody is interested in the project. Also it shows that we all work together here for the benefit of the region, the community. I think that's a big plus," Bradshaw said. "We can't thank IREC enough for this generous offer."

The association has developed a long-range development plan for the site.

"The first step will be a kiosk to give us a place under cover people can come and stand. We'll have signs there to give them history and then there'll be walking trails to walk through and see signs telling one of the McWorter family lived here, this was a blacksmith and what was in the village in the 1800s," Bradshaw said.

"We thought a walking trail would be a very quick and simple way of getting some information out. People can just take off from the kiosk and walk around a few blocks," said Claire Martin, a NPA board member and a research associate at the Illinois State Museum.

"We have a tentative longer term plan over the next few years. Part of that involves just expanding the trail, making more loops and more signage ... and have one or two ghost structures that involve just a sort of basic skeleton of a building, no walls and no roof so that you see the outline of where a building was and get a sense of proportion and feel for it on the landscape. It will be another year or two to get to that," she said. "As money and time become available, we'll continue adding more and more information so people can be out there on their own but really learn something about the site."

The ghost structures will provide help visitors understand more about the site but also protect archaeological opportunities for future generations.

"They don't want us putting anything permanent there to interfere with future archaeological digs," Bradshaw said. "Ghost structures can be removed in the future if they want to do an archaeological dig."

The co-op's funding covers a maximum of 10 years "as long as the group continues to be viable, and show some progress out there," Rennecker said. "The need for developing some of the physical structures could help them get closer to national park status."

JWCC's involvement could benefit students as well as New Philadelphia.

"It's some building we don't get to do everyday," said Dan Arnsman, JWCC's construction management instructor. "I always like to give my students the widest array of experiences and skills I can give them so they're not limited when they go out and hit the job market and have a diverse background to offer a potential employer."

Arnsman already has staked out where the visitor's kiosk will be located and said the students will be involved in its construction, the ghost structures and in kiosks for the walking trail.

"It's a visible project that I think the students will take great pride in," Bradshaw said. "If they help us and we get some materials donated, we should be able to do quite a bit over 10 years."