New Philadelphia added to National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

Posted: May. 29, 2013 10:47 am Updated: Jun. 19, 2013 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

BARRY, Ill. -- Another piece of New Philadelphia's history is gaining national attention.

The National Park Service has added the New Philadelphia Town Site to its National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

New Philadelphia Association Treasurer Pat Syrcle said the designation brings the site another step closer to the long-sought goal of becoming a national park.

"It can do nothing but help us as we go forward," Syrcle said. "This is just another plus on the good side of that ledger sheet."

The network's 497 listings -- 333 sites, 100 programs and 64 facilities nationwide -- attempt to tell the story of the people and events associated with the struggle for freedom from enslavement.

New Philadelphia's story centers around its founder Frank McWorter. The community, dating to 1836, is the first in the nation platted by an African-American.

Before moving to Illinois from Kentucky in 1830, McWorter bought freedom for himself, his wife and a son who had fled to Canada with funds he earned from a saltpeter mine and other successful businesses. Risking capture by slave trackers, the McWorters returned to Kentucky to buy freedom for 16 family members.

In Illinois, the struggle continued.

"McWorter family and local residents' accounts, documented oral histories and primary documentation attest that New Philadelphia and area residents participated actively in the Underground Railroad by concealing, harboring and sometimes accompanying runaway African Americans to Canada," according to a news release from the association. "Like other free African-American communities, New Philadelphia's residents, some formerly enslaved, were mindful of the adversity and tribulations of enslavement. These individuals demonstrated their commitment to self-determination by jeopardizing themselves to help others find freedom."

The site's history already has been recognized with listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 for its potential to provide nationally significant information about the life and relationships of African Americans and European Americans in a pioneer setting. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2009.

The association for years touted potential ties to the Underground Railroad.

The Network of Freedom, according to its website, was established in 2000 to honor and commemorate the people, past and present, of the Underground Railroad and to educate the public, provide technical assistance for documenting, preserving and interpreting Underground Railroad history, and create a network of historic sites, interpretive and educational programs, and research and educational facilities with a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad.

A certificate of acceptance will be on display at the New Philadelphia site, which also offers a "talking house" presentation, available by radio transmission on AM 1670, providing a brief history of the town. Plans are under way to develop signs providing a history of various dwellings and structures that were once part of the New Philadelphia landscape along with a self-guided walking tour of the site.

More information about the New Philadelphia site is available online at