Belleville’s Bicentennial

Belleville Family Album: Bicentennial coverage tended to focus on large events and milestones from the city’s history, but we wanted to reflect on the everyday folks who created the city by working its mines, making its homes and opening its shops. We asked readers through the newspaper, our website and social media to share their family photos and emphasized that they share photos and the stories of the people in them. We had a significant response, locally as well as from former residents who moved to Oregon, California and Florida, that created a 24-page section and a lot of positive comments from readers. The family photos told much about the character of the community and the people who built it.

Centennial March: One of our photographers was covering the collection of historic Belleville artifacts for a bicentennial museum display when a piece of sheet music surfaced that had been written by Belleville resident Frank Macke for the city’s 100th anniversary. The multimedia staff wanted to bring the music to life, so a local pianist agreed to learn the piece, and we made a video of her performing the “Belleville Home Coming March.” We also put a PDF of the sheet music on our website to so others could play the march. From that effort the Belleville Philharmonic’s conductor became interested, especially because the piece’s composer was also once a conductor of the philharmonic. The current conductor orchestrated the piano arrangement, and it was performed at the orchestra’s fall concert. Again, we created a video of the performance.

Belleville name project: BND photographers were tasked with finding the city’s name in as many diverse forms as they could. They took detail shots of signs, buildings, products and publications. We culled the images of the name “Belleville” to 16 and created print and digital presentations. In print we presented the detail photo, and readers turned to an inside page to find where the detail shot could be found, the story behind that name and what it illustrated about the city’s history. From “Belleville” in iron from the city’s heyday as a stove manufacturing center to the name embossed on the cover of a steno pad from an early business college, the examples were presented weekly. We also collected all the names into an interactive graphic. Finally, all the name photos were placed on a poster with the bicentennial logo and sold, with a portion of the poster proceeds going to the city’s 200th anniversary committee for celebration expenses.

Bicentennial Belleville/Our Town: We produced print and digital features for the city’s 200th anniversary that looked at pieces of its history as video features, much like the television “Bicentennial Moments” created in 1976 for the nation’s bicentennial. One episode explored the history of West Belleville, a city absorbed by its larger neighbor with remnants recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. The others tackled the city’s manufacturing past and the origins of its Public Square. A second set of features and videos called “Our Town” looked at individuals who remembered significant moments in the city’s history. Profiles included a priest who reflected on the religious changes, a 94-year-old news photographer and a high school basketball coach who saw the city’s big reaction in 1966 to his team’s performance at the state tournament. The features included text, stills and videos for print and online audiences. Videos were collected into an interactive graphic.