MINOOKA – History teacher David Belden has a bit of an obsession with the local history behind Lincoln Highway and Route 66.
So much so that every year in his Chicago history class at Minooka Community High School he has his students do a project on one of the highways. This year, he’s co-authored a book with fellow English teacher Christine O’Brien on Lincoln Highway: “Images of America: The Lincoln Highway Across Illinois.”
“I always wanted to do a book on Route 66, but someone beat me to it,” Belden said. “So when they contacted me about a Lincoln Highway one, I suggested we do the entire Illinois area.”
The book was released Dec. 9 and is available for $21.99 on Amazon.com and at large book retail stores.
This is Belden’s sixth book with Arcadia publishing, all of which he has worked on in conjunction with his local history classes. The books all have dealt with digitalizing historic pictures.
“I learned a lot about not only the road construction, but the cultural and economic impact tied to the automobile,” Belden said. “This is the highway that really began it all.”
O’Brien has worked with Belden on previous books, but this is the first one she has co-authored. O’Brien’s love for organizing and photography is what attracted her to take on a bigger role with this book.
“Years ago [Belden] asked me to help proofread the Will County book for him, and since then, I have helped him edit, organize and assist with all of the other books,” O’Brien said in an email. “With ‘The Lincoln Highway Across Illinois,’ I became more involved with selecting images for the book and taking needed photographs from around the area. “
The book has more than 200 images of the historical highway. From southern Cook County to the Mississippi River, Lincoln Highway goes through numerous Chicago suburbs eventually heading west, according to a news release from the publishing company.
“Conceived by entrepreneur Carl G. Fischer in 1912 and endorsed by businessman Henry B. Joy, the idea of creating an automobile-friendly roadway spanning America would soon change the nature of travel in the 20th century. ‘Lincoln Highway in Illinois’ defines and describes the role of the highway as it zigzags its way across the ‘Land of Lincoln’ and highlights the cities, towns and rural communities along its route,” according to the release.
The cover of the book features an old photo of the highway surrounded by fields and trees, not the gas stations, stores and industry that surround it today.
It was chosen by O’Brien and shows an automobile along Lincoln Highway near Franklin Grove. The photo came from the University of Michigan.
“I knew the photo should be focused on the Lincoln Highway itself, and I thought it was important to see a street sign with the name of the highway,” she said. “The photo also shows old vehicles, open road and a lot of rural land, which clearly portrays how long the Lincoln Highway has been around.”
As with his previous books, which have focused on Grundy County, Will County, Joliet, Princeton, and the Illinois and Michigan Canal, Belden’s local history students helped him research and digitize the more than 200 pictures in the book.
Belden said about 15 students from his local history class last school year worked on the book.
“They scanned [photos], entered research, organized and wrote, to some extent,” he said.
Because the road goes through areas close to them such as Joliet and Frankfort, the students identified with the project, he said.
Nicolette Krzywanos was a sophomore when she worked on the project and said she was able to become more familiar with the road that she has driven on before through the project.
Belden said he and his classes will be working on more books in the future and local brochures. The next project will be Joliet-themed. Anyone with old images of the Joliet area are asked to contact Belden at email@example.com.