Exhibition Coal Mine Museum is nestled in the West Virginian town of Beckley, along the beautiful New River Park. The museum is part of an impressive compound of historic structures and artifacts tracing the history of the coal industry in West Virginia. Visitors can explore coal mining history in exhibits of mining equipment, a guided mine tour, and restored historic structures relocated from company towns across West Virginia.
The museum building itself is located in the historic Rahall Company Store. While a smaller structure than the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, the Exhibition Coal Mine Museum has opted for a “less is more” approach, with elegantly simple and focused displays. The museum mainly occupies the second floor of the former company store, featuring mining tools such as helmets, lamps, shovels, axes, walking sticks, and lunch buckets along other coal mining related pieces. A collection of petrified wood, dubbed “kettle bottoms” or “kettle boms” by coal miners—while fascinating to museum visitors—were terrors to miners who could be killed by one unpredictably falling loose from the tunnel roof. A wall of photos commemorates crews of coal miners from across West Virginia.
Historic Mining Structures
Mining structures from company coal towns across West Virginia have been relocated and restored at the Exhibition Coal Mining Museum grounds. Visit a charming mini-mansion in an English country style which had been built as the Superintendent’s house by coal baron Samuel Dixon. Compare it to a three bedroom company house built by the New River Coal Company as part of a complex of houses for miners to rent for themselves and their families from 1925 into the 1940’s. Along with housing, the collection of structures also includes a two room schoolhouse—notable for its size in a time when most of its contemporaries only featured one room. Also, company church, built by Coal Baron Thomas Hurst Wickham for the employees in the Coal Camp of Pemberton. Such churches not only serviced the miner’s religious needs but housed social and business gatherings for the town.
Along with the museum and historic buildings, the grounds also feature a tour of the Exhibition Coal Mine, itself. While, we must admit, we missed the animatronics from Portal 31, we certainly enjoyed our enthusiastic tour guide and his explanation of coal mining from a position as both a tour guide and retired coal miner. While sitting in an open rail car, visitors ride through retired mine tunnels while stopping occasionally to take in equipment on display and learn about the daily lives and perils of coal miners. The tour was relatively short but quite enjoyable.
Along with the museum, mine, and company buildings, the Exhibition complex includes a Youth Museum and Mountain Homestead. The small, colorful youth museum features a rotating collection of three exhibits to educate young visitors to Beckley. Behind the museum is a collection of 8 historic Appalachian buildings which have been relocated to the complex to recreate a mountain homestead. Visitors can take a tour to view inside the log house, barn, blacksmith, weaver’s shed, and one room school house which are all painstakingly furnished for period accuracy.
Between all the attractions, visitors can easily spend the majority of the day steeped in West Virginia history, with some time to spare for a picnic and recreation in the park.