PIKE COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — Some U of I professors are leading the effort in the country’s newest national park near Barry, Ill. called New Philadelphia National Historic Site, which commemorates the first U.S. town to be legally founded by African Americans.

Frank McWorter, known as “Free Frank,” registered the town of New Philadelphia in 1836. After he and his wife, Lucy, bought freedom for themselves and 14 other family members, they acquired the land in Pike County. They then sold lots to free African American families and European American families attracted to their vision of a community dedicated to freedom.

The new town, located 25 miles from the slave markets in Hannibal, Mo., helped people escape slavery along the Underground Railroad. In time, however, the town eventually lost residents and was overtaken by agricultural fields and prairie grass.

Gerald McWorter, a professor emeritus of African American studies and information sciences, is the great-great-grandson of “Free Frank.” He and his wife Kate Williams-McWorter, an information sciences professor, helped turn the site into a national park in December.

They created the New Philadelphia Association, and along with U of I anthropology professor Christopher Fennell, worked with researchers to oversee an extensive survey and excavation of the site.

The next step is obtaining funding to develop the site.