How much do you know about the Kentucky Coal Industry? On a recent road trip, our family took the time to drive through Eastern Kentucky and tour the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Harlan County. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this museum and tour was one of the highlights of our summer road trips.
Kentucky Coal Mining Museum Tour
The museum is located in the former company store and shows you a snapshot of life during the early coal mining days. The main floor is the home for many exhibits such as the Barber shop, General Store, Hospital and rooms with the supplies that helped the coal mining community maintain their life.
The displays are open and not hidden behind glass cases. This gives the museum a more homey, natural feel. Of course, you don’t want to touch the items on display, but I loved how inviting the museum was to visitors.
The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is heritage center located in Benham, Kentucky. Its focus is the history of the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky, featuring specific exhibits on the company towns of Benham and neighboring Lynch. It is housed in a former company store that was built by International Harvester in 1923.
In the basement of the museum, you can experience what a coal miner would feel. As you crawl through the tunnels of this ‘coal mine’, the lights will come on so you can see the next area. There are even plastic coal miners hats that you can wear to give you a more authentic experience. This is a little daunting at first, but quickly became one of the favorite places in the museum.
The museum is also home to an extensive collection of Country Music Loretta Lynn’s personal items. Lynn is most famous for her “Coal Miner’s Daughter” song.
Tour through the Mine – Portal 31
One of the more recent additions to the Coal Mining Museum is the opportunity to ride a mine car down into Portal 31 and experience firsthand what it was like to be a miner. You travel through the mine tunnels and see exhibits from the different time periods of Kentucky mining.
Tip: Call ahead to book your tour into Portal 31. These tours do fill up quickly. When we arrived, they were able to work 3 of our family members into a tour.
The tour is very dark. The only lights in the tunnels are the headlight on the mining car and the exhibits when you stop at each one. The mining car is also loud as it travels through the tunnels. This is an authentic mine portal that has been redesigned as a tourist opportunity to share the mining experience with the world.
I am so glad we were able to tour the museum and visit Portal 31. Have you ever visited the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum? Did you even know this existed?