This past week I attended the Midwest Archaeological Conference in Milwaukee, WI. One of the talks I found very interesting and relevant to our CHI Fellowship was by Christopher Fennel of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, titled: New Philadelphia, Illinois: From Research Project to National Historic Landmark. He spoke about the significance of the site, and the augmented reality (AR) app that was developed to showcase the virtually reconstructed town through historical documents and archaeological evidence.

As summarized from the Google Play store:

“New Philadelphia is historically significant as the first town in the United States to be founded and platted by an African American. The founder, Free Frank McWorter, was a slave who purchased his own freedom through money he had earned while being leased as a laborer. Free Frank moved west from Kentucky into Illinois and purchased land which he then platted and sold as lots, in the process founding the town of New Philadelphia. Free Frank used the proceeds from those lots to successively purchase the freedom of first his wife and later his children and grandchildren, all of whom had remained enslaved in Kentucky. Over the course of the mid-19th century, New Philadelphia grew modestly in size as a multi-racial community of whites and blacks peaking around 1870, however, the town was eventually abandoned in the early 20th Century and reverted to farmland.”

Currently, New Philadelphia is on the National Register for Historic Places and named a National Historical Landmark, and is in the vetting process for becoming a National Park.

map of new phil

Now for the New Philadelphia AR App!

The purpose of this app is to place visitors to New Philadelphia into the virtually reconstructed portions of the historic town, while walking around the National Landmark. The site has free Wifi access for the purpose of using the app while at New Philadelphia. The creation of this app was made possible with the support of the United States National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and the Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative.

How to Use:

“App works by recognizing signs located at specific points within the site’s visitor path to accurately place historical structures. When visitors view a sign through their mobile device, the App overlays 3D reconstructions of houses onto the current landscape. These historical artifacts are carefully reconstructed based on a collaboration between the App’s designer and historians from the State Museum. Visitors also hear audio narration and sound effects which serve to recontextualize the existing landscape. A schoolhouse, for instance, echoes with the sound of children playing” (Jon Amakawa, app designer).

However it is possible to view the AR content from home by opening the app, and using the reproductions of the guidepost signs available here.

The app is now available through the Apple Store (Search “New Phil AR”) and Google Play store. Below are some screenshots from the app:

Technology at New Philadelphia

Guidepost 6guidepost 4

















I hope you all take the time to visit this important site, and try out the New Philadelphia AR App!

For more information about New Philadelphia and Frank McWorter:

*New Addition: Here is a link to a recent article about the New Philadelphia App.

If anyone has any questions about the app or the New Philadelphia site, feel free to send me a note at I will do my best to get you more information or place you in contact with the individuals involved in the project. For questions for the app designer, his web address is

*Photos from the Google Play store, and