“Anyone who cares about U.S. history” should book a trip to Birmingham, Ala., said Alice Short in the Los Angeles Times. The city long ago embraced its role as a civil-rights battleground, so the 50th anniversary of a few scarring 1963 events will be marked by various exhibitions, festivals, and symposiums. But it pays to follow the city’s story back further, to its 1871 founding by men who hoped to tap local mineral deposits and create an industrial powerhouse. At the former Sloss Furnaces, now a national landmark, the huge old blast furnaces “have a natural, desolate beauty.” On top of the city’s Red Mountain, you can stand beside a towering statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, and look out over his handiwork. Birmingham was built by industrialists intent on using only nonunionized and African-American labor. It’s a complex history, a past the city is grappling with admirably. “It’s almost impossible” not to want to learn more.
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Columbia, Pa., “has weathered more than its share of disappointments,” said Diane W. Stoneback in the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call. Once known as Wright’s Ferry, this “hapless” town on the Susquehanna River adopted its current name in a nearly successful 1789 bid to become the nation’s capital. A subsequent campaign to be named a state capital failed too. Yet the most galling snub in Columbia’s history came after residents torched a prized bridge to prevent its use by advancing Confederate troops: The town got no help with the costs of rebuilding, plus “little thanks.” But area residents “don’t give up,” and they’re justly proud of their National Watch and Clock Museum and the 2-year-old Turkey Hill Experience, an attraction created by the local ice cream brand. This June 28–30, the picturesque town is even celebrating the 150th anniversary of the bridge burning, by re-enacting the conflagration near today’s mile-long span.
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