When I realized I was given the opportunity to research and write about an important aspect of Alabama, I immediately knew what I wanted to write about. This subject has been close to my heart since I was a child – the McWane Science Center. As a child, I often visited the McWane Center, an interactive museum designed for children and adults alike. It is full of wonder, excitement, and pure joy for all ages. It is a combination of an IMAX theater, a science museum, research facility and aquarium allowing the young and young at heart to go on an adventure of discovery.
Tucked in the corner of the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 19th Street North in Bessemer’s Premier Realty building sits Alabama’s oldest serving restaurant, The Bright Star. Opened in 1907 by Tom Bonduris, The Bright Star started out as a small 25 seat cafe and bar primarily serving mining, manufacturing, and railroad workers. After moving three times, The Bright Star arrived at its current location in 1915. The restaurant decor was modeled after the popular styles of 1915 with ceiling fans, tile floors, mirrored and marbled walls, most of which still exist today. An itinerant artist also hand painted several murals throughout the restaurant, which I must say, are a beautiful view to take in. In 1925, Tom Bonduris sold his ownership interest to his great-nephews, and the two patriarchs of the Koikos family, Bill and Pete. Bill and Pete were 1923 immigrants from Greece. They began serving Greek inspired cuisine not long after their purchase in 1925. Since 1966, Bill’s sons, Jimmy and Nicky, have owned and operated the restaurant.
When my family and I moved from the area surrounding Birmingham, Alabama to Ashville Alabama, I was under the impression that we were moving from the outskirts of an extremely important city to a very unimportant little town. So, imagine my surprise when I moved to Ashville and discovered that this little town held one of the two courthouses and county seats in St. Clair County (the other being Pell City.) A county having multiple courthouses is not unheard of, but it is very rare. On top of that, while Ashville and Pell City both have courthouses, Ashville’s courthouse is older than Pell City’s by a decent margin. The little town that I now live in turned out to have a much richer history than I thought!
Aldridge Gardens is a unique place in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, AL. It is a testimony to Eddie and Kay Aldridge that such a wonderful place exists today. The garden is 32 acres and has something new to explore each time you visit. This green space is important because it provides a respite for people to slow down and smell the roses or in this case, the hydrangeas.
Living in a small town in Alabama can keep one disconnected from the more historically focused areas of the state. Small towns, however, do not go without their gems. From the small town of Springville, Alabama, we have MLB baseball player Casey Mize. Mize was born on May 1, 1997, in Springville, Alabama. He earned his high school education at Springville High School. In 2015, Mize went on to Auburn University to play baseball. Though the 2015 MLB drafts ignored him, Mize did not take it personally and kept his motivation and sought to improve himself while in college.
Dorah Sterne was a Jewish activist based in Birmingham, Alabama who worked and fought for women’s suffrage, prison reform, education reform, and much more. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and married Mervyn Sterne in 1922 after meeting him at a New Orleans wedding. They moved to Birmingham that same year, where Dorah lived the remainder of her life. As a graduate of Smith College, she majored in history and minored in economics. Upon her arrival to Birmingham, she quickly started participating in civic work around the city. Sterne wanted to do her part to improve Birmingham for everyone and worked for years to achieve her desires.
In 2008 the University of Alabama at Birmingham silently set a goal to reach one billion dollars in donations only to go public with the said goal in 2013. According to the university website they ultimately reached their goal in 2018. Most recently The University of Alabama at Birmingham has received a $100 million donation for its Medical School from Marnix E. Heersink a renowned eye doctor. Dr. Heersink notes, “In just five years, the UAB School of Medicine grew its National Institutes of Health research portfolio by $100 million, making it one of only eight schools in the country to do so. This growth catapulted the School of Medicine’s NIH ranking from No. 31 in 2014 to No. 21 among all schools and the top 10 for public medical schools. In addition, 12 departments ranked among the top 20”. The funds would involve expanding not only the UAB School of Medicine but the construction of Marnix E. Heersink Institute of Biomedical Innovation and the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health, the Insititue for Global Health would be named after Dr. Heersink’s wife.
Electricity is by far one of the most important commodities people consume. The nature of our power consumption is constantly evolving. As prices and demand fluctuate for gas or oil, energy providers change how much is produced and how they generate it. Nuclear energy emerged after World War II as a viable source to balance rising energy demand and minimize the cost to consumers. To accommodate changing times, in 1977 Alabama Power opened the Joseph M. Farley Nuclear Plant along the Chattahoochee River.
Keeping culture alive in today’s time is rarer than I hope for. But thank goodness for people like my grandmothers and mother for keeping the culture in me very much alive. Growing up, I would wear my Nani’s (grandmother) crocheted poncho with such pride, telling everyone that my grandma from Pakistan had made it with her own hands. And indeed, it was an actual skill not to use any kind of pattern and create items without any mistakes. It was like a part of Pakistan had traveled to me.
Hank Williams Sr. is one of the most important figures in the history of country music. His influence on the genre can still be felt today nearly seventy years after his passing. His writing style of simplistic language to convey complex emotions garnered him legions of fans, and he pushed country music into the mainstream. Hank Williams Sr. is one of the greatest country music singers of all time and his writing style, vocal performance, and persona helped to popularize country music.
Alabama Heritage BLOG
At Alabama Heritage, we owe many of our successes and smooth operations to our fabulous student interns. We hope that with this blog, written mostly by our interns as well as history students from UAB, our readers will have an opportunity to get to know the students who bring so much to the table with their enthusiasm, hard work, and expertise!
If you're interested in our internship program, check out the details here.