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Kentucky Coal Museum marks 25th anniversary

By Ethan Cantini

Contributing Writer

With the rapid decline in tourism to Harlan County within the past several years, a beacon of hope remains for the area to remind us of both the rich past and our promising future.

The historic Kentucky Coal Museum celebrated its 25th anniversary on Saturday in Benham. The event was hosted by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKCTC) and featured a number of activities such as storytelling, demonstrations and special tours.

The celebration featured an open house from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and was free to the public. It also included memorabilia for sale, baked goods by Phyllis Branham and the museum gift shop.

“It’s a good reminder of the past” said Amanda Hughes, curator of the museum.

Everything from photographs, artifacts, machinery and other mining memorabilia make up the four floors and over 30 exhibits of the museum. Their most popular exhibits include the memorial exhibit featuring letters from trapped coal miners and the Leatherwood Blue Diamond exhibit, which is their newest one.

The venue also featured in-depth storytelling from local folklorist Theresa Osborne. She is also a professor of Appalachian Studies at SKCTC and a seasoned storyteller who has been delighting audiences for years with her exciting and hilarious tales.

The museum officially opened in May 1994 after the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce purchased the building in 1990 upon receiving grants from the state. Originally built in the 1920s by International Harvester as a company store, the establishment now reflects on that same rich history of coal mining in Appalachia. The museum now receives approximately 5,000 to 6,000 visitors per year.

“Our goal is knowledge” said Hughes, “We get people who have no idea what a coal mine is or the conditions people had to work in. After people leave here, they have a vast knowledge of different things the miners had to deal with.”

Within the last few years, the museum acquired around 80 solar panels, which cut electricity costs by $80,000.

With the coal museum’s 25th anniversary, visitors are still able to admire the past and the future.