New Philadelphia Becomes Part of the National Park Service

January 24, 2023

Congratulations to the New Philadelphia historic site, on becoming a unit of the National Park Service! Welcome to the NPS family!

In late December 2022, New Philadelphia, Illinois was established as a National Historic Site by a bill passed by the US Congress and signed by President Joe Biden. We congratulate The New Philadelphia Association and the many volunteers for reaching this impressive milestone.

Founded in 1836 by Frank McWorter (known as ‘Free Frank”), New Philadelphia was the first town legally founded, platted and registered by an African American in the United States. Over his lifetime, he bought 16 family members out of slavery. Many African Americans and European Americans living at New Philadelphia then helped freedom-seekers find passage to the northern USA.

By 1885, many villagers had moved away in search of jobs and better economic opportunities. By the 1940s, nothing of the town remained above ground. However, the town's descendants and neighboring communities did not forget New Philadelphia. McWorter family descendants and area residents kept the story of Frank McWorter alive. Later, archeologists and historians pieced together historic documents, recollections of the town's descendants, and artifacts to tell the story of New Philadelphia and the lifeways of its diverse townsfolk.

Several organizations and individuals have worked together for years to protect and interpret the New Philadelphia site and conduct archeological and historical research. Most active among them are nonprofit organizations including the New Philadelphia Association, the Archaeological Conservancy, the Philadelphia Land Trust, the McWorter family, and the faculty and students from the Universities of Illinois and Maryland.

A national park site will commemorate and contribute to our nation’s march toward freedom. It is a tribute to the legacy of Free Frank and Free Lucy McWorter and their family and community, and all who kept and enriched the memory.


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