A bill that would bring a historic site in Western Illinois one step closer to being preserved by the National Park Service has passed a U.S. House committee.
New Philadelphia was a community in Pike county that was incorporated in 1836 by "Free Frank" McWorter, a former slave. It was the first town in the country that was founded by an African American. Though the town is no longer standing, a shelter house rises from nearly the same spot.
That shelter house was built by the New Philadelphia Association. The group purchased some of the former town site to keep it from being farmed or developed.
Director Philip Bradshaw said if New Philadelphia is eventually inducted into the National Park Service, the entire site would be protected for the foreseeable future.
In addition, Bradshaw said the Park Service would have more resources than the New Philadelphia Association to be able to tell the town's story.
The New Philadelphia Study Act, which passed the Houses's Natural Resources Committee, authorizes the National Park Service to conduct an archeological survey of the site. This is to decide if the former town should be listed as official site by the agency.
Bradshaw said a considerable amount of archeological research has already been done on the site, which should help lower the cost of the Park Service's survey. He added that research has uncovered evidence that though the town may not have been completely peaceful, it was integrated, which was exceedingly rare at that time.
"That here in 1836 you had people get together, living in a town together, probably not always harmoniously but without any serious problems prior to the Civil War and that's what makes it very important," Bradshaw said.
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) introduced the bill in the house and testified to a house subcommittee on its behalf.
A similar bill has been introduced by Senators Mark Kirk (D-IL)and Dick Durbin (D-IL). The House bill’s next step is to come for a vote on the House floor, which has not been scheduled yet.