Minooka High School's local history class has just completed its third and fourth publications a postcard history of Will County and a historical walking tour of the town of Minooka.
The two newest publications follow on the heels of two other postcard history books, one on Grundy County, published in 2007 and one on Joliet, published in 2008, said local history teacher Dave Belden.
The class at Minooka High School originally began as a way to help the Three Rivers Library to preserve their own local history collections. They were running out of space and the materials weren't being stored properly, Belden said.
Belden set it up as a class project and students helped to digitize as much of the collection as they could. That led to a website called localhistoryproject.org.
With that project complete, Belden and his students realized there was quite an extensive collection of photo postcards from the area. With that in mind, the class embarked on the idea of producing their first postcard book through Arcadia Publishing, a publisher that specializes in postcard series books.
Since then, the class has completed three postcard books and their first brochure of Minooka.
Finding out who holds the collections of postcards is a big part of the class' research, Belden said. They aren't usually in the hands of historical societies but owned by local collectors.
Postcards were a way that people kept in touch in the 1930s and 1940s and they are now very valuable.
"It's the way people communicated," Belden said. "The mail would go twice a day; you could send something across town."
Many local photographers took photos and had them turned into postcards. "Amateurs were taking them; it gives it a different flavor of the community," said Belden.
Once the postcards from a particular area are discovered, there's research to be done on who or what is in the picture. For the Grundy County book, students stood on street corners of Minooka and other towns comparing the old postcards to current landmarks to determine the location.
The class then has to narrow down the submissions and choose those that will best tell the story of the town or area depicted in the book. They look through thousands of postcards before deciding. Students learn the history of the area along with skills in research, digitizing, organization and production.
"They are involved in every aspect of the process," Belden said.
In their first brochure, they also learned about layout, design and writing skills.
"The opportunities that this class presents to the students and the community involved are pretty unique," said MCHS Director of Community Relations Dave DiLorenzo.
With the success of four publications, the class is now becoming much in demand, Belden said. They have several irons in the fire and have many that they would like to do.
Belden would love to have historical walking brochures of more towns, such as Channahon, Coal City and Carbon Hill.
While doing research for Grundy and Will counties, they uncovered many photographs of one room schoolhouses, including the first Minooka High School. That idea is also on their list.
"That project has taken on a life of its own," Belden said.
Upcoming projects include a special presentation for the Grundy County Sheriff Department, a presentation for the Minooka Federated Women's Club, and a third for Princeton, Ill., in conjunction with the Bureau County Historical Society.
"Word is really getting out about what we do," Belden said. "(Princeton) is our first time going out of our neighborhood."
Many of the projects are made possible through grants Belden applied for and received from EcoLab, DiLorenzo said.
This year's grant money will go toward the purchase of microphones so students can do an oral history along with their presentations.
The historical walking tour of Minooka includes a map of the area and photographs of what stood on the land at the time. It provides a view of what life used to be like in rural Minooka 75 to 100 years ago, Belden said.
The postcard series books can be purchased at area bookstores and online. The Minooka brochure is available locally at the village hall, libraries, the Chamber and at many local businesses.