Annual lecture series to delve into New Philadelphia’s rich history and its impact today

PITTSFIELD — An annual lecture series will explore the establishment of a school for black Civil War soldiers and their children and the related history of the nation’s first town founded by an African American — and also feature a new app that brings this story to life through augmented reality.

The Likes lecture series will begin on June 7. It honors surveyor Marvin Likes and his son, Tom, who volunteered their time to help keep the history of New Philadelphia in Pike County alive.

New Philadelphia was founded in 1836 by freed slave Frank McWorter. Blacks and whites lived and worked there together until the late 1880s.

The first lecture will focus on the connection between New Philadelphia and Lincoln University. Retired Brig. General Donald Scott will speak about the establishment of the Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri, for African-American Civil War soldiers and their children. Scott is an alumnus of the school, which was later renamed Lincoln University.

On June 14, Nancy Davis will explore New Philadelphia and other settler communities in western Illinois.

In 1817, the federal government made over 5 million acres of land in western Illinois bordering the Mississippi River available to veterans of the War of 1812. Many veterans found this impractical and sold their patents of 160 to 320 acres to cheap speculators, which gave rise to several settler communities, including New Philadelphia, the Mormon community of Nauvoo, and later the Icarian community. Artifacts discovered at the New Philadelphia site and objects from the McWorter family and artifacts from nearby sites that are featured in the “Many Voices, One Nation” exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History will be illustrated in the conference.

Claire Martin will feature stories of some of the women who lived in New Philadelphia on June 21, including its “first lady,” Lucy McWorter, and her daughters, who gradually acquired property, legal status and access to education throughout the century. She will discuss the lives of women such as Civil War widow Cordelia Taylor Racy, Louisa McWorter – who built the largest house in New Philadelphia – and others.

On June 28, Jon Amakawa will share his creation, the New Phil AR 2 mobile app, which uses augmented reality technology to tell the story of Frank McWorter and New Philadelphia.

All talks will start at 7 p.m. and will be presented via Zoom. Lectures are free to all, but a link is required by emailing [email protected]

The series is sponsored by the New Philadelphia Association, the Illinois Electric Cooperative, and the City of Barry.

Angela C. Hale