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New Philadelphia Augmented Reality Tour


by Jon Amakawa

The New Philadelphia AR Tour is an historical mobile app that uses Augmented Reality technology to present the 19th Century town of New Philadelphia, Illinois to visitors. New Philadelphia is a National Historic Landmark that is historically significant as the first town in the United States to be founded by an African American. After being abandoned in the early 20th Century, however, the site reverted to farmland. Today there are no visibly remaining buildings or artifacts.

The App works in conjunction with five specially designed Augmented Reality marker signs that are located at specific points within the site's visitor path. These marker signs enable the App to accurately place the virtual historical buildings. The App prompts visitors to align their mobile device's screen with any one of five marker signs.

Using the App

Once a marker has been detected, the app displays 3D recreations of historic buildings overlaid onto the current landscape in their original locations. The historical buildings and artifacts were carefully recreated based on a collaboration between App Designer and Assistant Professor at Fitchburg State University Jon Amakawa, the National Park Service's Network to Freedom Program and researchers from the Illinois State Museum.

AR Tour, GuidePost 6

In addition to buildings, visitors can view animated people and farm animals that provide insight into daily life in 19th Century New Philadelphia.

AR Tour, GuidePost 4

Visitors can hear audio narration and sound effects which serve to recontextualize the existing landscape. A schoolhouse, for instance, echoes with the sound of children playing.

AR Tour, GuidePost 11

In addition there is a game feature that asks visitors to find all four virtual artifacts scattered throughout the site. These virtual artifacts are based on real artifacts found by archaeologists during excavations at the site. As of July 2015, the app reconstructs half of the town and is available to the public for Android devices at Google Play. An iOS version will be released in September of 2015. 

The New Philadelphia AR Tour represents an innovative model for interpreting historical sites that have traditionally been difficult to interpret, particularly when there is an absence of remaining artifacts. The App challenges the notion of what kind of historical site is worth interpreting and what visitor experience is possible when there seems to be little that visually remains. A similar kind of App is now being developed for the Jameson Jenkin's Lot at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield Illinois.

Now available for Android devices at Google Play https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.amakawa.newphiladelphia&hl=en