When I was growing up in the Beckley area, the city had a kinda catchy slogan: “The city with a MINE of its own!” That “mine” is the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, one of the city’s longest-enduring tourist attractions. The slogan persisted for years, until the state decided to spend millions of tax dollars on an overpriced gift shop for locally-made folk items, called Tamarack. Then, Beckley switched to the much less imaginative slogan, “Beckley, Home of Tamarack!”
As I shake my head about that one, I should mention, it may be a good idea for you to read my Beckley Disclaimer on the previous page. Although truth be told, I only have positive things to say about the Beckley Exhibition Mine.
The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine gives every tourist the chance to do the one thing they’ve always dreamed of: go underground into a coal mine. It’s also a mandatory trip for local elementary school students. Having been such a student long ago, I decided not to pay the rather pricey $20 admission fee during this visit. But, I can guide you through the above-ground experience.
Here’s the entrance to the old Beckley mine. Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, it was a real, functioning coal mine. Sometime around 1910, the operation shut down, and the surrounding land became New River Park. 50 years later, the mine re-opened as a tourist attraction, that still used authentic mining cars to shuttle people 1,500 feet below ground, in refreshing 56 degree air.
When I was visiting, no one was paying attention to the entrance to the mine, so I probably could have casually walked inside and explored it on my own. Of course, you’re not supposed to do that. So, I just peered into the entrance. From here, you can get a pretty good idea of what you’re in for: low ceilings held up by old timbers, and plenty of lights along the way to keep the experience from being too scary.
Each tour is guided by a veteran coal miner. They’re usually quite entertaining. I remember one from a tour I took years ago, who kept banging on a support beam with a hammer, while telling the group that it was the only thing holding up the ceiling.
Throughout the tour, you remain seated on these railcars.
Good news! Cameras are welcome. So be sure to bring your mid-1980’s beta camcorder, or your super-8mm film movie camera!
The coal mine has spent the past two decades adding to its collection of above-ground attractions. Over the years, it has managed to reconstruct an entire coal camp. Many of the buildings that are now here, used to be located in some of the area’s other tiny coal towns. This includes the church, seen above.
By the way, your tax money helped pay for it! Much of the $2+ million spent in 2008 went to constructing a new visitor’s center and company store, emblazoned with the name of a local politician. The mine shut down for a year while the improvements were being made, and re-opened just a few weeks after my visit.
There are several other buildings which are part of the coal camp experience. They’re sandwiched into the park, next to Ewart Avenue. Try to ignore the modern-day homes across the street.
The old coal-camp buildings include a house…
… and a one-room school. I’m fairly certain admission is required to tour this area (the aforementioned $20 ticket covers the coal mine, a nearby children’s museum, and the coal camp). But, I managed to wander in and out without paying.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.