Kentucky Coal Museum

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Kentucky Coal Museum
KY Coal Mining Museum.png
Kentucky Coal Museum is located in Kentucky
Kentucky Coal Museum
Location within Kentucky
Kentucky Coal Museum is located in the United States
Kentucky Coal Museum
Kentucky Coal Museum (the United States)
EstablishedMay 1994
Location231 Main Street, Benham, Kentucky 40807
Coordinates36°57′51″N 82°57′04″W / 36.964081°N 82.951130°W / 36.964081; -82.951130
TypeHeritage center
Visitors30,000 (approx.)[1]
DirectorJohnny Coppinger
CuratorPhyllis Sizemore
WebsiteKentucky Coal Museum & Portal 31

The Kentucky Coal 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 June 1990, the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce purchased the building for the future site of the museum. After receiving additional grants from the state of Kentucky, the museum opened in May 1994.[2]

Built in the 1920s by International Harvester, the museum features four stories of exhibits on the mining history and the coal miner's life. Artifacts, antiques, photographs, and machinery make up more than 30 exhibits in the museum. Other activities for visitors include having their picture taken outside by the two-ton block of coal and learning about the formation of coal by looking at visuals and fossil displays. One of the most well known tours is the Portal 31 Underground Mine Tour. This tour allows visitors to ride a rail car through a coal mine that include sounds and animated exhibits.[3]

The museum provides education and better insight on the life of hard working coal miners and the pressures they faced while working in dangerous underground mines. One employee Phyllis Sizemore that worked at the museum said "I hope when visitors come to this museum that each are touched emotionally as well as intellectually. I hope they learn something but I hope they find food for thought, I hope their heart is touched as they read and learn about the lives of people and how these people lived and how they raise a family." This museum has welcomed over 6,000 visitors each year.[4]

In April 2017 the Kentucky Coal Museum added 80 solar panels which cut $8,000 off its annual electricity bill. The Southeastern Kentucky Community and Technical College own the Kentucky Coal Museum and thanks to them they paid for the installation of the solar panels. The solar panels for the museum now generate 60 kilowatts of power at maximum capacity. [5]

In early January, recent issues have caught the attention of residents of Benham and Lynch located in Harlan County about surface mining close to these historical towns. This could damage water sources and block the view of the city which helps tourism. This could effect the Kentucky Coal Museum due to a decrease in tourism investments. [6]


Throughout the museum visitors have access to numerous exhibits and displays on all four floors. Some include the Mock Mine, life of a coal miner and their family, community art mural of Benham, mining tools, Native American & early settler displays, coal camp displays, coal camp schools, coal camps as multicultural places, mine safety exhibits, and the Loretta Lynn Exhibit. Below is a list of exhibits on each floor.[7]

Main Level

  • Formation of Coal
  • Older Artifacts of Mining
  • 1920-40 Coal Camp Life
  • Hospital Room
  • Engineers Office

Second Level[edit]

  • Historical Photography
  • African American Exhibit
  • L & N Display

Third Level[edit]

  • Loretta Lynn Exhibit
  • Butcher Holler Home Replica
  • Native American Exhibit
  • Benham Spur Frontier Home Exhibit
  • Arts & Media Special Exhibit Area

Fourth Level[edit]

  • Mock Mine Exhibit
  • Carpenter Shop Exhibit
  • Bath House Exhibit
  • 1960 Tipple Exhibit
  • First Aide Display


The museum has received the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce History Award, Harlan County People's Choice Award, and the The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Kentucky's Grand Conceptor Award, and the Top 3 Award by ACEC for excellence in engineering on the national level. It has also been featured in 55 state and national publications.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alford, Roger (October 21, 2009). "Kentucky Hopes For Big Haul From Coal Mine Tourism". USA Today. Retrieved November 10, 2010.
  2. ^ History of the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum Retrieved on November 10, 2010
  3. ^ "Harlan County, Kentucky - Official Web Site - Kentucky Coal Museum". Retrieved 2019-04-25.
  4. ^ Kentucky Farm Bureau (2010-07-07), Kentucky Farm Bureau's Bluegrass & Backroads: Kentucky Coal Museum, retrieved 2019-04-25
  5. ^ Geuss, Megan (2017-04-10). "To save money, Kentucky Coal Museum turns to solar panels". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2019-04-25.
  6. ^ By. "Why some people in these historic coal towns now want to block nearby surface mining". kentucky. Retrieved 2019-04-25.
  7. ^ "Kentucky Coal Museum". Retrieved 2019-04-25.
  8. ^ "Facts". Retrieved 2019-04-25.

External links[edit]