“The City With a MINE of its Own.”
After reading John Grisham’s Gray Mountain, my husband had a strong desire to visit the West Virginia coal country. And so we did.
The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is an excellent way to get some idea of what it was like to work in a coal mine and live in a mining town. Listed on the national Register of Historic Places, the mine originally operated in the late 1800s as the Phillips-Sprague Mine.
I know the mining companies have had decades of bad press and fought with environmentalists for ravaging the landscape. But the area we saw was beautiful, with lush vegetation.
Our tour guide had 28 years of experience in the mines, and a great sense of humor, gave us plenty of history and perspective about low-seam coal mining and how the industry has progressed. We rode in authentic “man cars” through 1500 feet of underground passages. Always 58 degrees, it was chilly and damp. He also shared that last year there were 50 mines in the region and this year only 24. Locals seemed distraught over the demise of the once thriving industry.
That being said, no one shied away from explaining how the mining companies of the not too distant past essentially “owned” the workers, requiring them to live in company towns and shop at company stores, with special “chits” they provided as currency.
Most workers here were either miners or part of a mining family. Facilities include parts of a company town, complete with homes for single miners, families, camp supervisor, school and church. Guides actually grew up in the types of homes they were showing, so it made the experience very intimate and extremely interesting.
Museum exhibits fill the space over the “Company Store”/gift shop and there is also a Youth Museum on site.
With few options, other than back-breaking work and life-ending lung disease, it’s hard to imagine the conditions and individual human sacrifice that helped propel this country into the powerhouse it became.
Just the Facts:
Open April 1- November 1, 10AM – 5:30PM with tours on the hour and half hour. Adult tickets are $20 and there is a senior discount available, kids are $14. To take the tour and see the camp allow about 2 hours, with kids probably a bit more. Be sure to bring a jacket for the tour. Photos are allowed.