New Philadelphia-sign

A sign at the New Philadelphia site provides some of the history of Free Frank McWorter, who platted and legally registered the town in 1836. Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to designate the town site as a national historical park.

BARRY, Ill. — New Philadelphia might be moving closer to national park status thanks to new legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth introduced legislation this week to designate the original town of New Philadelphia as a national historical park.

“It means that we’re one step closer to actually having New Philadelphia become a unit of the National Park Service, and that way we will preserve the history and the memory of Free Frank McWorter and all the people that lived in the town of New Philadelphia,” New Philadelphia Association Executive Director Marynel Corton said.

New Philadelphia was the first town platted and legally registered by an African American, Frank McWorter, in 1836.

“The story of New Philadelphia should be preserved and shared with each generation to learn about Illinois and our nation’s history,” Durbin said in a news release.

The legislation, Senate Bill 3141, was referred to the Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“Honoring the legacy of New Philadelphia and celebrating the history of Black Americans is critically important,” Duckworth said in the news release. “Making our national parks better reflect our nation’s people and history is long overdue, and it’s time we properly recognize Frank McWorter.”

Similar legislation was introduced earlier this year in the U.S. House.

The House Committee on Natural Resources in July unanimously passed the New Philadelphia National Historical Site Act, a bill introduced in February by Rep. Darin LaHood.

LaHood and New Philadelphia Association President Phil Bradshaw both gave testimony in April before the committee’s national parks, forests and public lands subcommittee in support of the legislation which will help more people see and understand New Philadelphia where African Americans and European Americans lived and worked together.

New Philadelphia’s population peaked in 1865 as home to 29 households and 160 people.

“It was an integrated town prior to the Civil War,” Corton said. “It also is a wonderful, positive example of people living together and working for their own common purposes and to help others gain their freedom.”

By 1885, New Philadelphia lost its legal status as a town because of population declines resulting from the railroad bypassing the town.

The town site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, designated as a National Historic Landmark and included in the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

The National Park Service manages two other sites in Illinois — the Lincoln site in Springfield and the Pullman National Monument in Chicago.

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