By David Taylor
A visit to the Beckley Exhibition Coal mine, in Beckley, West Virginia, is like hopping on a man trip right into the past. Tours are conducted by actual coal miners, and take visitors through a shift underground including duties, and personal experiences. In addition to the mine, visitors can also tour the grounds and view a series of buildings that have been painstakingly restored to their original condition.
According to their website, Coal barons like Samuel Dixon envisioned their dreams of having beautiful coal towns. Samuel Dixon would like to smile down upon the town of Beckley for preserving at least one of his old coal town mansions. This three story structure from Skelton, West Virginia was constructed for the mine superintendent to make his home. In 1906 it was called just that; the “super’s home”. However, all indications that Dixon had it built more as a small mansion, resembling those from the countryside of England where he was born.
At the Exhibition Coal Mine, visitors ride through the dark passages of a vintage coal mine. The guides are veteran miners and provide firsthand accounts of the daily responsibilities and travail of past and present day miners.
The miner’s shanty came from a coal camp in Helen, West Virginia. It is a one room dwelling dating back to the early 1920’s. It was built for and occupied by a single miner living away from home while working in the coal mines during a work week.
Coal Camp School was originally constructed as a two room school, but as enrollment declined it became a one room school. The school was built in 1925 up a hollow called Berry Branch in Helen, West Virginia. It served black children that lived in the coal camp. In the coal camp during this time period there were two school buildings one for the white children and one for the black children.
The Pemberton Coal Camp Church was built in the Coal Camp of Pemberton, West Virginia in 1921. Coal Baron Thomas Hurst Wickham was responsible for for financing and building the town of Pemberton. Mr. Wickham paid for having this church built and gave it as a gift to the community.