Portal 31 Exhibition Mine back in action

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Portal 31 Exhibition Mine, located in Lynch, is again up and running after extensive improvements and remodeling of the attraction has been completed. The exhibit started with a reopening ceremony on Friday, drawing dignitaries and spectators from all parts of the region.

A sizeable crowd gathered on the overcast, colder-than-usual day at the Portal 31 site to celebrate the reopening of the uniquely Harlan County attraction. Those in attendance included Kentucky State Senator Johnnie Turner, Kentucky State Representatives Jacob Justice and Adam Bowling, Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosely, members of the Harlan County Fiscal Court, members of city councils representing cities throughout Harlan County and many other members of local government and organizations. The Harlan County High School Choir was on hand to perform the national anthem for the crowd.

Mosley spoke to the enthusiastic audience about the project.

“Good morning, and thank you all for being here with us today,” Mosley said. “The story of Portal 31 began right here more than 100 years ago. In 1917, the U.S. Coal and Coke Company, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, built the community of Lynch. At that time, this town was the largest coal camp in the world, 10,000 people called Lynch home.”

Mosley pointed out 100 years ago, Portal 31 miners achieved the world record for coal production.

“On the 12th of February in 1923, the world’s record for coal production in a single 9-hour shift was set right here,” Mosley said. “That day, miners mined 12,820 tons of coal and filled 256 rail cars.”

Mosley mentioned that Harlan County once had the second-highest population in the state due to the mining industry.

“Things have changed a lot over the years,” Mosley said. “The last mining that was done at Portal 31 was in 1963…Coal miners here at Portal 31 and other mines throughout Harlan County powered this great nation through two World Wars and an industrial revolution. They played a huge part in the freedom and luxuries we have today.”

Portal 31 is one of several tourist attractions in Harlan County.

Mosley noted that tourism spending in Harlan County has increased yearly–except for the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 – since 2015.

“With the new and improved Portal 31, the Black Mountain Off Road Adventure Park…Dragon Slayer KY 160 right here through Lynch crossing Black Mountain and Boones’ Ridge in neighboring Bell County opening very soon, even more people will be coming to experience all we to offer in our beautiful mountain home,” Mosley said.

State Senator Johnnie Turner expressed some thoughts on the upgraded exhibit following the ceremony.

“This is so beautiful,” Turner said. “I come from a coal mining family; I was in the mines in the 1950s when I was just a young kid. My brothers have worked in these mines all over this mountain…this (attraction) is an extension of what can happen in Harlan County.”

State Representative Adam Bowling talked about the historical importance of Portal 31.

“This is a piece of not only Harlan County History but American history,” Bowling said. “As the Judge-Executive (Mosley) said, this mine right here powered us through two World Wars; it powered us through the industrial revolution. If you look at the Industrial Revolution, the factories that were built in the northeast, that happened because of the coal that came out of Portal 31. It’s a proud day to be here in Harlan County to honor those coal miners and their families.”

State Representative Jacob Justice mentioned the exhibit is a positive for the region.

“I think it’s amazing for all of eastern Kentucky,” Justice said. “Harlan County has always been a beacon of hope to show what eastern Kentucky can do for adventure tourism and grow the economy in other ways. On top of that, this place also captures the culture of eastern Kentucky. There’s not a person here in this crowd that doesn’t have family or some type of ties to coal mining, so we get to display our culture and grow the economy in a very unique way.”

Portal 31, located in Lynch, falls in Harlan County Magistrate Paul Browning’s district.

“It’s a tremendous day for Lynch, District 3, all of Harlan County, and even the region itself,” Browning said. “Tourism is certainly our quickest economic bridge to cross, and the investment here is going to prove to pay dividends for years to come.”

For more information on Portal 31, go to https://www.portal31.org.