Kentucky Coal Mining Museum

Kentucky Coal Museum

Useful Information

Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, U.S.A. Public Domain.
Location: 231 Main Street, Benham, Kentucky 40807.
Highway 119 exit Cumberland, left towards Benham on 160, in central Benham on the left side, signposted.
(36.964103, -82.951267)
Open: 08-JAN to 20-DEC Tue-Sat 10-17, Sun 12-16.
Closed Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving.
Fee: Adults USD 8, Children (12-17) USD 5, Children (6-11) USD 4, Children (0-5) free, Seniors USD 6.
Classification: MineCoal Mine SubterraneaReplica Underground Mine
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided. V=6,000/a [2019]
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Address: Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, 231 Main St., Benham, KY 40807, Tel: +1-606-848-1530. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1910 Wisconsin Steel Company, a subsidiary of International Harvester, purchased about 6000 acres on Looney Creek for the construction of the town of Benham.
1912 Benham built.
1923 building erected by International Harvester for the company store.
1983 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
JUN-1990 building purchased by the Tri-City Chamber for the museum.
MAY-1994 museum opened to the public.


The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, lately shortened to Kentucky Coal Museum, is an informative museum with exhibits on the history of mining and the life of the coal miner. This includes artifacts, antiques, photographs, and machinery. It is a good starting point for any excursion into the mining history of Kentucky and the Coal Heritage Trail in Central Appalachia. The museum is located in the old commissary, built by International Harvester in 1923. It housed the coal company's "company store". The museum has a so-called "mock mine", which means a mine replica, so although there is no real mine it possible to make a short underground visit to a coal mine. It is operated by the Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College.

The museum uses all four levels of the building. The ground floor contains an exhibition on the formation of coal with many fossils, a Blacksmith's Shop, a Hospital Room, a Barber Shop, and the Engineer's Office. The first floor shows historical photography and exhibitions on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and the books of John Fox Jr. The second floor is dedicated to the local history and culture. There are exhibits on Native Americans, a moonshine still, a horse barn, and the Benham Spur Frontier Home. Several exhibitions about Loretta Lynn, the famous singer-songwriter, who was the daughter of a coal miner. There is the Loretta Lynn Coal Miner's Daughter Exhibit, a replica of the Butcher Holler Home, a collection of music memorabilia and of stage dresses. The cellar finally contains the mock mine, a carpenter shop, a bath house, a 1960 tipple, and a display on first aide.

International Harvester Company, which operated Wisconsin Steel Coal Mines, continues to be the main employer for the community. The community of Benham is an artificial miner town which was designed by the planners and architects of the Wisconsin Steel Company in 1912. They designed a central park area, surrounded by the infrastructure like company stores, schools and churches. The center was surrounded by the residential areas which extended along the valley. It was soon too small and in the 1920s the one to two story frame structures were rebuilt. Seven major buildings were constructed of steel and concrete with a brick exterior, connected by a coal-fired steam heating system with underground piping. The town is actually a sort of open air museum of a 1920s miner town.

A large number of blacks where employed by the Benham mines. As customary at that time they lived in a segregated area of Benham and attended a separate school. The miners were paid in scrip a sort of voucher, which was redeemable at the company stores and other company buildings. They sold food, furniture, clothing, hardware equipment and other necessities, and provided entertainment in the form of plays and movies. In other words, the company paid the workers in kind. Or to say it in other words: they established a monopoly on any good. And they made it impossible to save any money, because the workers only had scrip. That's a practice which is today outlawed for good.