Coal mining museum one step closer

Items depicting coal mining are on display at the Historical Society of Hopkins County.

Luke Short/The Messenger

In 2015, the Historical Society of Hopkins County began the process of developing a museum that documents the history of coal mining in the region. Moving one step closer to completion, a group of members visited other museums in the state that pay homage to the dwindling profession.

A few members recently journeyed through 22 Kentucky counties, taking note of how three museums offered a glimpse into the history of a black, dusty underworld.

Historical Society Vice President and Programming Chair Randy Teague said the tour provided ideas on how to best utilize available museum space.

"We needed to get an idea of what we could do with ours compared to the others," Teague said. "I had gone and looked at the one in Owensboro before the trip. They have the basement of the old Anderson's Department Store. It's really quite a good little museum. They have a guided tour a couple of times a day."

Teague said the Owensboro Museum of Science and History also included a simulated mine, where one could catch a glimpse of what it was like to work in the industry in the 1930s.

"On our tour, we went up to Frankfort to the Kentucky State Historical Museum and saw their exhibit," he continued. "It's a good example of what you can do in a really small space like we have. That gave us some ideas."

The group then ventured to Loretta Lynn's hometown of Van Lear, which was named for Van Lear Black who was director of Consolidation Coal Company.

"That was a big museum," Teague said. "You can tell the local people have put a lot of work into it."

The next stop on the journey was the small town of Benham.

Housed in an old commissary building, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham boasts four floors of exhibits on the history of mining and the life of the coal miner.

"We stayed in an old schoolhouse that had been converted into a bed and breakfast, because it was the only place to stay," Teague said. "That museum is really first-rate."

The group traveled 955 miles in two days before returning home.

Former HSHC President Bob Adkins said he was fascinated by the advancements that have been made in mining since its inception.

"Over time, technology really had an effect in the mines," Adkins said. "From the bird cage with the canary in it to detect gas, to the modern devices, as well as continuous miners.

"You used to load your car, which would be drawn out by the bank mule, and you put your tag on it," he added. "You had to put your tag on it to get credit for working."

Adkins said plans for the Hopkins County museum include displays on both underground and surface mining.

"We can also focus on union and non-union to tell the story of mining in the county," he said. "I don't know which direction we're going to go or if we want to present those aspects or not."

The museum will be housed on the third floor of the county's former courthouse in downtown Madisonville.

Today at noon, a ribbon cutting featuring sample exhibits will take place for the new HSHC meeting room, which is part of the museum.

Former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler will be featured at 6:30 p.m. at the first HSHC meeting in the new location. He will be presenting on his grandfather and former Kentucky Gov. Happy Chandler. The program is free to the public.

"I think we are about a year away from being a completely functioning museum that tells a story," Teague said. "Right now, we'd like to gather all the different artifacts and see what we have to work with."

HSHC is still seeking museum donations with historical value and relevance to Hopkins County. To donate, call 270-821-3986.

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