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New Philadelphia May Receive National Park Designation

Public Domain

A study will determine whether a historic site in Pike County will become a national park.

Congress gave the go ahead for the National Park Service to study New Philadelphia. It's included in the defense bill currently awaiting action by President Obama.

New Philadelphia was the first full racially integrated community prior to the Civil War. It was established by a freed slave, Frank McWorter, in 1836.

Today, nothing remains of the town.

Sandra Washington with the National Park Service said the site is nationally significant. It is already on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

“We will also look at suitability, feasibility and the need for national park service management,” Washington said.

The National Park Service completed a reconnaissance study of the area in 2011 at the request of Illinois lawmakers.  Washington said at that time the park service determined the site might qualify.

But she said there is some concern about managing an archeological site. The park service would not want to build a visitor’s center because it would diminish the town site’s historic value. She said the park service’s policy does not permit digging up artifacts.

“If the goal is to dig everything and bring it to the surface -- that’s not something we would do as the National Park Service,” said Washington.

Still, she said receiving the designation could benefit the area.

“When the national park service arrowhead is at a site it generates a lot more public interest. Typically visitation goes up, attention to the site and the site’s story increases, whether or not people are physically going to the site or whether they are finding out about the site on the web,” said Washington.

She said the study will take two to three years to complete. The National Park Service will make recommendations but ultimately Congress will decide whether New Philadelphia will become a national park.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.