Media

Mission

The mission of the Kentucky Coal Museum is to preserve and exhibit artifacts that tell the story of coal mining in Kentucky, including the work and contributions of the coal miner and his/her family; the impact of the coal industry upon coal field communities; and the cultural as well as the social influence coal mining has had upon The Commonwealth. While preservation and exhibition remain the Kentucky Coal Museum’s primary function, the museum also engages in educational programming that further expands the mission of the entity in its work to “Tell The Story of Coal.”

Location

Housed in the old commissary in Benham, Kentucky built by International Harvester in the 1920s, the Kentucky Coal Museum features four stories of exhibits on the history of mining and the life of a coal miner. Visitors can enjoy a “Step Back In Time” to the coal miner’s workplace, his home and his community. Artifacts, antiques, photographs and machinery make up the thousands of display items that date back to the early days of coal mining, which covers a span of time from the early 1900s to present day.

History

Work on the creation of the Kentucky Coal Museum began as early as 1978 with a project feasibility study grant funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The old International Harvester Commissary building in Benham was purchased in June of 1990 by the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce, and additional grants, including coal severance funding, were obtained to pay for extensive renovation. By 1993, a board of directors was in place and a curator was hired. The Kentucky Coal Museum opened for business in 1994. A Loretta Lynn Exhibit was added on the top floor of the museum in 1997. In the fall of 2010, the museum opened the Portal 31 Underground Tour in Lynch, which was first conceptualized as early as 1980.

Portal 31

The Portal 31 Underground Tour is the Kentucky Coal Museum’s newest exhibition, and is the only underground mine tour in the United States. The Portal 31 Tour revolves around high-tech experiences that utilize animatronics, rear screen projection, and I-Max-like technology to tell “The Story of Coal” in modern, state-of-the-art fashion. The Portal 31 Underground Tour is also the only former, working mine operation that is open for visitors to tour as they board a mantrip that transports them on a half-mile loop underground. Portal 31 was once part of the U.S. Coal & Coke Subsidiary of U.S. Steel that build coal mining operations as well as a camp in Lynch, Kentucky in 1917. The mining camp soon became the largest in the world. The last of U.S. Steel mine operation closings in Lynch took place in 1990.

Management

The Kentucky Coal Museum and Portal 31 Underground Tour became a part of the Kentucky Coal Academy in 2009 and Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College in 2011. Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College had managed the attractions for many years through the college’s Southeast Education Foundation. Currently, Phyllis Sizemore serves as curator. She is assisted by three full-time employees, student workers and several community volunteers.

Fast Facts

Kentucky Coal Museum Visitors Per Year 5,011 (2011)
Portal 31 Underground Tour Visitors Per Year 3,731 (2011)
Number of U.S. States Visiting The Kentucky Coal Museum All 50 States
Number of U.S. States Visiting The Portal 31 Underground Tour 25 States Since Opening in 2010
Number of Countries Visiting The Kentucky Coal Museum

Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, Namibia, Nova Scotia, Philippines, Porte Rico, Slovakia, Sweden, Wales.

Number of Countries Visiting The Portal 31 Underground Tour 10 or more Since Opening in 2010
Number of Schools That Have Visited The Kentucky Coal Museum and Portal 31 Underground Tour More than 100 from 45 to 50 Tri-State Counties

Awards Received By the Kentucky Coal Museum and Portal 31 Underground Tour

  • Most recently designated as the State of Kentucky’s “There’s Only One” tourism designation for the museum’s and portal’s unique attributes.
  • Engineering Excellence Award
  • Harlan County People’s Choice Award
  • Tri-City Chamber of Commerce History Award

State/National Publications Featuring the Kentucky Coal Museum and Portal 31 Underground Tour

(Have Been Featured in over 35 Magazines and over 20 Newspapers)

Magazines

  • Southern Living
  • Blueridge Country
  • Road and Travel
  • Motor Home
  • Go Magazine
  • Engineer
  • The Voice
  • Kentucky Monthly
  • Kentucky Living

Newspapers

  • New York Times
  • The Cincinnati Enquirer
  • The Star Phoenix
  • Knoxville News Sentinal
  • Lexington Herald-Leader
  • Detroit Free Press
  • Grit
  • Hoosier Times
  • The Sun