Kentucky Coal Museum - Atlas Obscura

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Kentucky Coal Museum

Benham, Kentucky

Featuring a Loretta Lynn display and a re-created coal mine exhibit. 


The Kentucky Coal Museum (also known as the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum) opened its doors in 1990 inside a four-story, historic building that once served as the community’s company store. The museum delves into what life was like for a coal miner and the small towns that sprung up around the mines. Usually, the coal company ran these insular communities. Today, many of these small towns have been abandoned and torn down.

The museum covers many aspects of coal including how it’s formed and its extraction. Towns were seemingly built overnight to support the miners and their families.

One of the museum’s highlights is the mock mine exhibit. Found on the museum’s lower level, visitors crawl on their hands and knees to experience this display. Once inside visitors can stand up, barely. The faux mine allows visitors to imagine what hours spent in cramped, tight spaces would’ve been like. 

Other features of the museum include coal mining artifacts, goods owned by the people who worked and lived in Benham, items owned by Loretta Lynn (nicknamed “The Coal Miner’s Daughter”), and medical equipment.

You can even purchase old “scrip” in the gift shop—coin currency that miners used to pay for goods in the company store. If one needed an advance on their wages to buy things they needed, they would receive an advance in “scrip,” which could only purchase goods in the company store, which was owned by the coal company. In many cases, miners were unable to catch up with their debt. So, as the lyrics in Merle Travis’s “Sixteen Tons” go, “owing your soul to the company store” became a reality for many.

Know Before You Go

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays noon to 4 p.m.. The museum is closed December 21st through January 7th as well as the following holidays: Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving.

In the event of inclement weather, the Museum will be closed if Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College is closed. 

In partnership with KAYAK

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