New Philadelphia and Free Frank McWorter

News Info, May 12, 2016:

The National Park Service held a Public Meeting this evening regarding New Philadelphia's inclusion as a unit of the NPS.  The Meeting was from 6 PM until 8 PM at the Pike County Farm Bureau Building in Pittsfield.  Over 100 people attended. 
We have posted here for you a Fact Sheet provided by the NPS at the meeting.  It is titled New Philadelphia Special Resource Study Fact Sheet.  They have also produced a New Philadelphia Special Resource newsletter.  The spring edition is here. 

Couldn't make the meeting?  You can support the National Park Service's (NPS) consideration of the New Philadelphia National Landmark Site to become a unit of NPS!!

As part of the National Park Service special resource study, an NPS website has been dedicated to collect comments regarding New Philadelphia's inclusion as a unit in the NPS. You can submit your comments online between April 11 and June 11, 2016, to the Planning, Environment and Public Comment website:…


Three miles east of the present site of Barry, Illinois in Hadley Township lies a marker commemorating the frontier town of New Philadelphia founded in 1836, and giving homage to its founder, Frank McWorter.  But this is more than just a marker; here lies an important part of American and Illinois history.  New Philadelphia was the first town established by a free African American before the Civil War, and served as a stopping place for the “Underground Railroad” of enslaved African Americans fleeing northward from the oppression of southern plantations.

The story of Frank McWorter and New Philadelphia is one of daring and hard work, luck, and shrewd family leadership, according to the New Philadelphia Association, a not-for-profit organization formed by area residents who seek to preserve a substantial portion of the original town site. 

Born a slave in South Carolina in 1777, Frank moved with his owner, George McWorter, to Kentucky in 1795.  He married Lucy, a slave from a nearby farm in 1799.  Frank was very industrious, and was permitted to hire out his own time in various enterprises.   Most notably, he started a saltpeter mining and production operation.  With earnings from these activities, Frank purchased freedom for Lucy in 1817 (for $800), and for himself in 1819 (also $800). 

Shortly after gaining his freedom, Frank began to invest his earnings in land in a largely undeveloped area of Pike County, Illinois in a region of hill country between the Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers.  Frank and Lucy and four of their children left Kentucky for Illinois in 1830 and moved here.  Frank recorded his legal name as McWorter, subdivided and sold tracts of the land he had purchased, and then platted and legally registered the town of New Philadelphia.

New Philadelphia flourished as a racially integrated town at an agricultural crossroad, with an active roadway carrying agricultural products and other goods to the Mississippi River, twenty miles to the west.   The town size grew to 160 people, 29 households, and several craftspeople and merchants by 1865.  Frank witnessed this growth until his death in 1854. 

When the railroad connecting Naples, Illinois to Hannibal Missouri was built in 1869, it bypassed New Philadelphia.  Occupation of the town declined thereafter, and the legal status of the town was dissolved in 1885. But the story doesn't end there.

The New Philadelphia Association ( is a group of citizens who wish to see New Philadelphia and Free Frank remembered for future generations.  The site was named to the list of National Historic places in 2005, and in 2009 was designated as a National Historic Landmark, one of only 2,400 in the country. For several summers, including 2010, the National Science Foundation conducted an archaeological field school at the site, and NPA and Sprague’s Kinderhook Lodge sponsored an accompanying speaker series. In April 2013, New Philadelphia was accepted in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program.

Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative furnished funds to build a kiosk with John Wood Community College students providing the labor to build the structure.  A walking path and interpretive sign marks the site.  A mobile app is in development.

Efforts are underway to have the New Philadelphia site designated a National Park.  NPA has developed a strategic plan for the site, and is working with a number of agencies to make New Philadelphia a major historical, educational, and visitor site.


From I-72 in western Illinois:  Take Exit 20 off I-72, south to Route 106.  Go east on 106 to County Hwy 2 for 2.7 miles.  New Philadelphia will be on the right at 306th Lane.

From Pittsfield: Take 54 W to the intersection of that road and State Hwy 106.  Turn Right onto State Hwy 106 and go north for 10.17 miles to Co. Hwy 2.  Go east on Hwy 2 for 2.7 miles. New Philadelphia will be on the right at 306th Lane.   Coordinates are 39.68 N, 90.97 W

Interesting reads: 

New Philadelphia News (newsletter of the NPA)    October 2015
       December 2015

The Vision    Preserving New Philadelphia  
(a pamphlet produced by the New Philadelphia Association, March 2016)     Download here. 

Fertile Ground for Freedom,
an article about New Philadelphia in the Spring 2016 issue of Illinois Farm Bureau’s Partners magazine.  Read it here!

The December 2014 issue of Illinois Antiquity, the newsletter of the Illinois Association for the Advancement of Archaeology featured an excellent article by Charlotte King giving the history and significance of the New Philadelphia Site and the progress towards becoming a unit of the National Park Service. We are pleased to report that President Obama signed the bill in December of 2014, after the article went to print.  A copy of the newsletter is attached here.

New Philadelphia on the Network to Freedom article by Charlotte King.