Are you a friend of coal? West Virginia is a state that highly supports the coal industry. Coal occurs in 53 out of their 55 counties and provides about 30,000 jobs in the state. You can’t go anywhere in the state without passing a vehicle with a “Friend of Coal” bumper sticker proudly emblazoned on the bumper. Wanting to get a little more familiar with coal and understand its place in West Virginia, Kenin and I decided to pay a little visit to the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, and boy were we in for a lesson.
The historic Exhibition Coal Mine is located in New River Park in Beckley, WV. The mine opened around 1889 and was operational right up until 1953. In 1962 the City of Beckley opened the mine to the public to serve as an educational site dedicated to the coal mining life in West Virginia. We began our tour with a guide that actually worked the mine when it was open. He was so friendly, knowledgable and had first hand experience with most of the equipment that we came across.
Taking the little train into the tunnel, I could immediately feel my claustrophobia setting in. I don’t know how coal miners shored up their nerves to do this. Our guide took time to inform our group that this is about twice the height that the ceiling would normally be. This tunnel was actually expanded and lengthened for tours. Back in the days when this mine was used, the tunnel was half the height and miners would crawl on their hands and knees to dig and stack the coal.
Many advancements in machinery has helped ease the work load for coal miners. In the old days they used donkey-pulled carts to get the coal in and out of the mines and did most of the work by hand. They used kerosene lanterns in their helmets to provide light. Now they have electricity and better tools.
The Exhibition Coal Mine doesn’t just take you on an underground tour, it also allows you a view into the above-ground world of the coal miner and how they used to live. You can, at your leisure, take a stroll through the mine’s superintendent’s home, and view the rooms full of antiques and old world charm.
You can also take a peek inside the housing of a coal miner and see what two dollars a month would get you for living accommodations.
For two dollars a month you could live quite comfortably. These quarters were for single men but for a slightly higher price, you could get family quarters with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and bathroom. Most miners, single or married, lived in these little mining communities where everything was available to them. However a huge gripe was that you had to purchase most of your supplies from the very company you worked for so all or most of your paycheck was going right back to the company that paid you in the first place.
The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine has a museum full of old mining equipment as well as the mine itself. It also boasts a church, schoolhouse, the superintendent’s quarters as well as the miners’ quarters. Plan on a good half day at least to explore and take in all of the interesting exhibits on display. For us, it was quite the learning experience and it gave us a deeper perspective as to what life mush have been like as a coal miner.
Details for the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
513 Ewart Ave
Beckley, WV 25801