STATEMENT OF ROLAND W. BURRIS
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Burr, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear here today to discuss my legislation, S. 1629. This legislation would direct the Secretary of the Interior to perform a Special Resource Study to evaluate the national significance, suitability, and feasibility of the New Philadelphia site, southeast of Springfield, Illinois, to be managed as a unit of the National Park Service.
I feel this designation would prove especially important, adding to our history as a country. Archaeologists have pointed out that New Philadelphia was the first town before the Civil War founded, planned and legally recorded by a freed African American, Frank McWorter. National Significance for the site has been established by virtue of a National Historic Landmark designation in 2009, and the ultimate goal is to create a new National Park at the site of the New Philadelphia settlement.
Let me tell you a little bit about the history of this intriguing site.
The story of Frank McWorter and New Philadelphia is one of daring, hard work, luck, and shrewd family leadership. Born a slave in South Carolina in 1777, Frank McWorter moved to Kentucky with his owner in 1795. He married Lucy, a slave from a nearby farm. Later, allowed to hire out his own time and labor, McWorter engaged in a number of enterprises, notably mining the mineral "crude-niter' (an essential component of gunpowder) that proved profitable allowing him to buy his wife's freedom in 1817, and his own in 1819.
Frank and Lucy McWorter left Kentucky for Illinois in 1830, the year the Thomas Lincoln family, with son Abraham, came to Illinois from Indiana. McWorter bought a farm in Pike County's Hadley Township and platted the town of New Philadelphia in 1836. There were clearly defined lots for family homes, businesses, and a school, where citizens of all races lived. By-passed by the railroad in 1869, the townspeople slowly dispersed from the scene by the late 1880's. Today, the town site is an open field, but the New Philadelphia township map with deed information shows town lots and the streetsof New Philadelphia. Frank McWorter died at New Philadelphia in 1854, and a son, Solomon, assumed family leadership. Some of the family still resides in the area.
In 2004, a three-year National Science Foundation grant of $230,000 allowed three summers of archeological work hosted by the University of Maryland in collaboration with the University of Illinois and the Illinois State Museum. This work located many intact town features including substantial building foundations, the remains of wells, and pit cellars. In total, surveys and archeological investigation located more than 65,000 artifacts. Oral histories from local residents and descendants, written accounts, census, land deeds, and tax records, document the town's historical appearance. According to an 1872 map, the town consisted of 144 lots, each 60 feet by 120 feet, laid out in a grid pattern over 42 acres. Most blocks were divided into eight lots and the primary thoroughfares were 80 feet wide. Importantly, Frank McWorter wisely platted New Philadelphia along two of Pike County's primary roads.
Federal census records from 1850 to 1880 indicate residents were involved in a variety of enterprises; cabinetmakers,shoemakers, a wheelwright, a carpenter, a seamstress, physician, teachers, merchants and blacksmiths. A post office operated in the town from 1849 to 1853, and is said to have served as a stagecoach stop.
In its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2009, New Philadelphia is recognized for its high potential to yield information of major scientific importance to our understandings of everyday life in a racially integrated community, where formerly enslaved individuals, free born African Americans, and Americans of European descent lived, worshipped, made commerce, and were educated together. I have been told it is generally recognized that previous research and archaeology from this era of our history has focused on historic sites associated with the colonial settlements, sites associated with the founding of our nation, and southern plantations associated with slavery. New Philadelphia would add new dimensions to our understanding of this time in our country's history.
The New Philadelphia Association, a not-for-profit organization formed by area residents seeks to appropriately preserve a substantial portion of the town site in honor of a remarkable man andfamily of the Western Illinois frontier. Currently, fourteen acres of the 42-acre site are under purchase agreement with the Archaeological Conservancy, and as I understand, the current owners of the land are open to further discussions on this project.
deally, a National Park unit at New Philadelphia would commemorate a theme important to all Americans: the struggle for freedom and opportunity. New Philadelphia would inspire current and future generations as a place of inter-racial cooperation in an era and region of intense racial discord that culminated in the American Civil War.
I want to especially thank Chairman Udall and Ranking Member Burr for their commitment to our National Parks system, and secondly for moving this legislation as quickly as possible. I know that, working together, we can add to the witness of history for all Americans to see and understand the remarkable accomplishments of Frank McWorter, his family, and the citizens of Pike County Illinois.