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By DAVID CAMPHOUSE
The New Philadelphia Association (NPA), Looking for Lincoln, and U.S. Congressman Rodney Davis dedicated a Looking For Lincoln sign at the First Baptist Church of Barry (900 Main Street) last Thursday. The sign was erected last fall.
According to NPA Executive Director Marynel Corton, the new sign is the first Looking for Lincoln wayside sign to be placed in Pike County outside of the Pittsfield area.
Corton said that the new signage is an important and visible way of connecting western Pike County to the broader historical legacy of Abraham Lincoln in Central Illinois. In addition, Corton said the sign will help draw additional interest to New Philadelphia and the Frank McWorter story.
“It’s very important for Barry to be part of the Looking for Lincoln family,” Corton said. “It’s another way to spread the Free Frank story and spread the historical significance of New Philadelphia.”
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Barry’s sign is one of approximately 270 wayside signs in the 43 Illinois counties of Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.
The new sign spells out specific historical connections between Lincoln and western Pike County/Barry.
“The significance of the Looking for Lincoln sign is that Free Frank and Lucy McWorter attended the First Baptist Church of Barry from the early years of the church,” Corton said. “Frank obtained his last name in 1837 with a vote from the state legislature, when Lincoln was a legislator.”
Obtaining a last name was necessary to protect himself and New Philadelphia legally.
In addition, the Looking for Lincoln sign tells the story of Barry resident and photographer Calvin Jackson. Jackson is known for taking a famous picture of Abraham Lincoln in 1858 in Pittsfield.
Congressman Rodney Davis joined members of NPA and the Looking for Lincoln organization for the dedication event.
Davis, along with Congressmen Darin LaHood, Danny Davis, and Mike Bost, are cosponsors of a bill that would make the New Philadelphia site a unit of the National Park Service (NPS).
The continued development and recognition of the New Philadelphia site that would be made possible under the auspices of the National Park Service, according to Corton, is a critical step in realizing New Philadelphia’s potential to teach residents and visitors about Pike County and American history.
“It’s important to demonstrate that African Americans were involved in settling Pike County early on,” Corton said. “Inclusion in the National Park system would allow New Philadelphia to be included as of the seven percent of National Park sites that tell African American history.”
In addition, inclusion as a unit of the National Park Service would help create economic development in the area and provide organizational backing for the NPA.
“It would help encourage tourism and bring people to the area and to western Pike County,” Corton said. “And it would help NPS preserve the site and tell its unique story. It’s important enough that it deserves to be on the national stage.”
The House bill that would make New Philadelphia a unit of the National Park Service has gained committee approval and is awaiting assignment for a floor vote by the U.S. House of Representatives.