Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine


Useful Information

Location: 513 Ewart Ave., Beckley, WV 25801. Interstate 77/64, exit 44. (37°47'5.17"N, 81°11'49.58"W)
Open: APR to 01-NOV daily 10-18.
Tours on the hour and on the half hour.
[2020]
Fee: Adults USD 22, Children (4-17) USD 12.50, Seniors (55+) USD 16, Military USD 15.
Groups (15+): Adults USD 15, Children (4-17) USD 9.50, reservation required.
[2020]
Classification: MineCoal mine
Light: electric.
Dimension: T=13°C.
Guided tours: L=500m, D=45min.. V=50,000/a [2006].
Photography:
Accessibility:
Bibliography:
Address: Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, PO Box 2514, Beckley, WV 25802, Tel: +1-304-256-1747, Fax: +1-304-256-1798. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1889 Phillips-Sprague Mine opened.
1905 mine modernized.
1953 coal mine closed and sold to the city of Beckley.
1962 show mine Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine opened to the public.
1987 scenes of the movie Matewan filmed at the mine.
1988 listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
2007 closed for the erection of a new Visitor Center.
30-APR-2009 new Visitor Center opened.

Geology


Description

photography
Rail tracks in underground passages at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. Carol M. Highsmith’s America. Public Domain.

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine is a typical coal mine of West Virginia, and there are still various operating mines. In 2006 the number of visitor boasted because of a tragic mining accidents at two other mines. The death of 14 miners was covered in newspapers all over the world, and so many people tried to learn more about coal mining at this show mine.

This mine has been the place of filming activities. Scenes of the movie Matewan, a film about the bloody battle to unionize a coal mine, were filmed here. It was also featured on a Discovery Channel documentation.

The Beckley Coal Mine was mined mostly between the 1880s and 1910, and thus the shown technology is of that era. There are open carbide lamps and also security lamps, which do not ignite methane gas but show its presence. Gas was the biggest danger in a coal mine, and so the fireboss had to walk the whole mine daily to make sure it was safe for the crew. The coal was mined manually, and every worker filled his own cart. Then he marked his cart with a round metal tag, and sent it out. The tags were collected and counted, and the miner was paid 20 cents for a cart. With about 10 carts per days he earned 2 dollars daily, whch was not too bad for the turn of the 20th century.

Coal mines are rather dangerous, as the coal produces inflammable gases, especially methane. As soon as there is an igniting flame, for example the miners lamp, there will be an explosion. The job of the fireboss was to walk the complete mine daily and check for gases, before the men entered the mine. This was pretty dangerous but also well payed. Safety lamps, where the flame was covered by a wire mesh, did not ignite the gas, the mesh cooled down the temperature until it was too low. But the gas caused the colour of the flame to change. The fireboss hat to check the colour of the light continually while he was walking the mine, and to avoid any other spark.

The visitors ride through the dark passages of a "vintage" coal mine, which means the historic abandoned coal mine named Phillips-Sprague Mine, on an open mine train. The mine train is locally called man trip because it was used to bring the miners to their workplace. The whole tour is made by train, but there are various stops where the guides give in-depth information on the mining methods and equipment seen. The guides are veteran miners and provide firsthand accounts of the daily work of coal miners. At the end of the tour a more modern part of the mine is reached. The timber struts are replaced by steel plates and bolts, and there are the first machines to help cutting the coal. When the mines were modernized, they started to pay the miners by the hour instead of paying by the amount of coal.

Back on the surface the tour is completed by a visit to period coal camp buildings situated throughout the grounds. The Coal Company House, Superintendent’s Home, Pemberton Coal Camp Church, and the Helen Coal Camp School are lovingly restored.

The show mine was closed for more than one year between 2007 and March 2009. A new visitors center was rebuilt, with 1,300m² of space for exhibits, a replica of a coal company store and an extensive collection of coal camp artifacts. Other parts of the 3.5 Million Dollar modernization are a new parking lot, pedestrian areas and outdoor exhibits.