- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

PITTSFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The first steps have been taken in a special study to determine whether the New Philadelphia site in western Illinois should become a national park.

More than 100 people attended a public meeting Wednesday night in Pittsfield where a National Park Service team explained the study process and heard from residents. The meeting was “very, very productive,” study project manager Tom Gibney said.

The study will look at New Philadelphia’s suitability and feasibility as a national park site, the (Quincy) Herald-Whig (https://bit.ly/1qfWOBa ) reported.

The racially diverse 19th century town of New Philadelphia, founded by former slave Free Frank McWorter, thrived with residents until a railroad bypassed it in 1869 and it dissolved in 1885. It’s located about 280 miles southwest of Chicago.

“The story of my family and the legacy of New Philadelphia is the story of freedom, and as such it anchors the best hope we have for this country,” said Gerald McWorter, a great-great-great-grandson of the founder.

The park service will make a recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior, but Congress makes final determinations on new national parks. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois back the idea of a national park designation.

“In addition to the archaeological findings, the human story, the story of freedom, dedication, perseverance in a time of extreme and horrible challenge, is one that needs to be shared and taught to future generations,” LaHood spokesman Brad Stotler said.

The majority of people in Illinois “don’t understand what we have right here in Pike County,” said state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer.

“The notoriety of being a national park would be a huge step in the right direction and would open up opportunities through the Midwest as people travel from one park to the next and really get a greater sense of the history of the United States,” Davidsmeyer said.

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Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig, https://www.whig.com

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