WASHINGTON -- Several pieces of Pike County history are on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The museum's "Many Voices, One Nation" exhibit features objects loaned by the McWorter family and artifacts recovered from the New Philadelphia site. New Philadelphia Association board members hope the spotlight from the display will help as they approach the deadline to secure the remaining 20 acres of the 42-acre site, allowing the town site possibly to become a unit of the National Park Service.
"NPA has been working for 20 years on preserving this land in Pike County," board member Marynel Corton said. Becoming a unit of the National Park Service, Corton said, would ensure the New Philadelphia site and story "will be there for generations to come."
Corton said NPA has until Sept. 1 to purchase the remaining land. The exhibit, she said, is one way to bring national exposure to the unique story of New Philadelphia.
An exhibit at the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum featuring New Philadelphia artifacts and a history of the town was recently extended. Corton said the exhibit was originally meant to be on display for four months, and the museum extended it through June because of its popularity.
First platted in 1836 by Frank McWorter, a former slave, the town is now a National Historic Landmark and generally regarded as one of the earliest beacons of equality. McWorter was the first African American to legally register a town in the United States, and formerly enslaved and free-born African Americans lived alongside European Americans within its borders, decades before the start of the Civil War.
"The Smithsonian Museum, by having the McWorter family and New Philadelphia in its new exhibit, "Many Voices, One Nation," once again shows the importance of preserving and telling the story of New Philadelphia and its founder Free Frank McWorter," NPA President Phil Bradshaw said in a news release.
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, has swung his support behind the historic site.
"Frank McWorter and the New Philadelphia community hold a special place in American history, and including this western Illinois community within this exhibition is an appropriate place to share their story," LaHood said in the release. "The development of New Philadelphia represents the notion that no matter our heritage, race, creed or ethnic background, we can all come together to live peacefully in one community."
"Many Voices, One Nation" displays 200 museum artifacts and 100 loaned items to tell how the many voices of the American people have shaped the nation and its communities. Following a 500-year chronology, the exhibition features objects as old as a painted elk hide from 1693 and as a recent as a baseball helmet used by Boston Red Sox player Carl Yastrzemski in the 1970s.
NPA is raising funds for the additional acreage through donations and lot sponsorships. Single lots may be sponsored for $1,000 and two for $1,836. NPA is planing a lot-selection party in the future to help donors decide which lot they wish to sponsor and to celebrate the next phase of New Philadelphia's history. Donations to NPA may be sent to NPA Treasurer, PO Box 156 Barry, IL 62312. For more information on lot sponsorship contact Marynel Corton or treasurer Jerry Corton at 217-335-2716.