S. 3141

New Philadelphia National Historical Park Act

STATEMENT OF MICHAEL A. CALDWELL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING S. 3141, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE NEW PHILADELPHIA NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK IN THE STATE OF ILLINOIS AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

MAY 11, 2022

Chairman King, Ranking Member Daines, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 3141, to establish the New Philadelphia National Historical Park in the State of Illinois as a unit of the National Park System, and for other purposes. 

The Department recognizes the important contribution to America’s story that is represented by the site known as New Philadelphia – the first town planned and legally registered by a free African American before the Civil War.  Congress authorized a special resource study of the archeological site and surrounding land of the New Philadelphia Townsite as part of the Carl Levin and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2015 (P.L. 113-291), enacted on December 19, 2014.  The study, which is in progress will consider whether the site meets the Congressionally established criteria for inclusion in the National Park System, including national significance, suitability, feasibility, and the need for NPS Management.  

S. 3141 would establish the New Philadelphia site as a unit of the National Park System to coordinate the preservation, protection, and interpretation efforts there by different entities and to coordinate appropriate management options.  The bill would establish a boundary for the park, authorize acquisition of land and structures for the park, provide for preservation assistance to public and non-public entities within the boundaries of the park and at sites in close proximity to the park, and require a management plan to be completed within three years after funds are made available for that purpose.

Originally established in 1836 by Frank McWorter, New Philadelphia was the first town planned and legally registered by a free African American before the Civil War.  McWorter, once an enslaved man, bought his freedom and the freedom of 15 family members by mining for crude niter in Kentucky caves and processing the mined material into saltpeter, by hiring his time to other settlers, and by selling lots in New Philadelphia, the town he founded.  The rural community situated near the Mississippi and Illinois rivers flourished at first, but later fell in decline when the railroad bypassed the community in 1869; it was eventually dissolved in 1885. The New Philadelphia Historic District consists of an archeological site within the 40-acre original townsite.  The New Philadelphia site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, designated as a National Historic Landmark and included in the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Several partner organizations and individuals have been working 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, and the faculty and students from the Universities of Illinois and Maryland.  They manage a website and social media, an informational kiosk, and an “augmented reality” cell phone tour of the history of the site. 

If the Committee decides to act on this legislation, we would like to work with you on amendments and a legislative map.

Chairman King, this concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.

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