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National Park Proposed for New Philadelphia

Pike County, IL – The first US town founded by an African-American was in western Illinois. A congressman wants to make the site a National Park.

New Philadelphia was in Pike County. It was founded in 1836 by Frank McWorter, also known as "Free Frank." He was a former slave who purchased his freedom.

At its height in 1850, New Philadelphia had a population of almost 60 people. 20 were black, the rest were white. But by 1870 the town was dead, and it has since faded in to the western Illinois prairie.

The site is in Congressman Aaron Schock's (R-IL) district. He wants to make sure New Philadelphia's story is not forgotten.

"You can come from nothing, you can come from even worse than nothing - which is being an enslaved human being - and end up founding and creating a very successful community for generations to come," said Schock. "I think that's a very powerful story."

Schock has introduced a bill that will require a feasibility study to determine whether New Philadelphia should be a National Park. Schock said the bill has bi-partisan support.

In a news release, Schock said that being part of the National Park Service will help ensure New Philadelphia's long-term preservation.

Schock said there continues to be interest in the site.

"There is preparation and planning right now just for the New Philadelphia site. They're excavating some of the original buildings. Work is going to continue at New Philadelphia regardless of what the Park Service decides," said Schock.

"But I think once they have the time to study it, they're going to be impressed and believe this is as significant as we all do for America's history and that it's important to preserve it."

The bill still needs to be approved by the House and Senate and signed by the President.

New Philadelphia was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 2005.