History teacher pens history of I&M Canal
By Kris Stadalsky For The Herald-News May 8, 2012 4:52PM
Dave Belden, a history teacher at Minooka High School, has published a book on the history of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. | Submitted photo
Updated: June 11, 2012 8:31AM
Dave Belden, a history teacher at Minooka High School, has published his fifth book about the history of this area.
While the other four books were postcard collections, this publication, “Illinois and Michigan Canal,” is a collection of photographs dating to the late 1800s, with descriptive captions about the construction of the canal and how it changed the area.
“I have always wanted to do one on the canal. It was just a matter of time,” Belden said.
Belden’s dream to publish a work on the I&M Canal became a reality when he was contacted by Michele Micetich, steering committee chair for the Canal Corridor Association.
The association wanted a new publication about its history that was accurate, interesting and could be sold at various locations along the 96-mile length of canal, Micetich said.
“We needed to get Dave (Belden) because that’s what his books are,” Micetich told the committee. “They are mostly pictures, but the captions are what teach.”
The I&M Canal book, like the other publications by Belden, became a project for his local history class. This one took two years to complete.
It began in the spring of 2010, with students helping to track down and gather photos. They digitized photos, did research and copied other pieces of information into the computer. It finally went to press in February of this year.
Some of Belden’s students have graduated without having the opportunity to view their completed work. Others are still at Minooka High.
Junior Bridget Pazely was in Belden’s class during her sophomore year and worked on the book.
Pazely spent hours copying and computerizing an old accounting ledger that showed what was spent on the construction of the canal.
While some students might find research and copying a tedious task, real history buffs found the project compelling.
“It was pretty neat,” Pazely said. “I learned a lot about the time during the canal (years). I found it interesting because I love history.”
Captured in photos
The I&M Canal is an important part of Illinois’ past and present. Its construction not only served to join the Illinois River to Lake Michigan, connecting the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, it linked cities like Lockport, Channahon and Morris, opening up development along the 96.4-mile corridor.
Today the I&M Canal offers miles and miles of recreational opportunities for riding bikes, walking, fishing, hiking and snowmobiling.
Along the route are state parks and historical sites. There are many kinds of wildlife, other connecting waterways and landscapes that range from bluffs to rolling hills.
Belden’s book gives a pictorial history of the canal with just enough writing to paint a clear picture without having to sit down and read a novel.
“It’s accurate and interesting,” Micetich said. “No matter who (the readers) are, a resident or a tourist, they are going to get a good sense of what the canal is about.”
Besides his students and the Canal Corridor Association, Belden relied on many others to pull the book together.
MCHS English teacher Christine O’Brien acts as an editor for Belden’s publications.
“Sometimes I offer writing style suggestions and help organize the information,” said O’Brien. “I enjoy doing the work because I learn a lot while I’m doing all of that reading and examining the pictures.”
I&M Canal historian Ron Vasile wrote the book’s introduction and checked the text for historical accuracy.
The majority of photographs came from the Canal and Regional History collection at Lewis University, through Director John Lamb with assistance from Mary Ann Atkins. Local photographer Joe Balynas submitted numerous photographs from his collection as well.
Belden believes that by learning about local history, his students can make an important connection with the world around them, past and present.
“They see the significance of how (this) connects to regional and even national history,” he said.
Belden hopes the book will shed light on the importance of the I&M Canal both past and present.
“The book brings it full circle,” he said, “what the canal and the canal association is about today. It’s still historical, but it’s also recreational.”