Kentucky Energy Education: a Field Trip to Harlan County

PattieBy: Pattie Stivender,
Education Director

On March 23rd and 24th, Bluegrass Greensource took 50 students and 25 adults to Harlan County to learn about Kentucky coal mining. Students from six counties in Central Kentucky learned about the history of coal mining and what the expectations are for the immediate future. This field trip was the culmination of 6 months of classroom activities and meetings about energy resources and energy in Kentucky.

On the first day of the trip Students attended tours of Portal No. 31 and the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum to learn about the history of mining. Portal No. 31 Underground Mine Tour in Lynch offered us the unique experience of touring an actual coal mine by rail car. The ride included animated exhibits that narrated the history of coal mining in Harlan County.

Lynch was the largest coal company-owned town in Kentucky through World War II. Lynch and Portal 31 were established by the U.S. Coal and Coke Company, a subsidiary of the United States Steel Company, in 1917. Lynch was considered one of the model coal camps in Appalachia because of its quality health care, education, housing, social services, wages, benefits, and recreation. The more than one thousand buildings in Lynch provided housing for the miners that flocked to Harlan County to work at the coal camp.  

The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, located in the former coal camp town of Benham, offered students the opportunity to experience the conditions ofmining in their mock coal mine. The guides were knowledgeable about all aspects of mining and patiently answered student questions.Benham was originally occupied by farming families. International Harvester purchased the area in the early 1900’s for its rich coal seams; then mining began. The museum building was the second building built by the company to house a company commissary. The first one, built on the same site, was a wooden structure destroyed by fire in the mid-teen’s. The concrete and masonry structure replaced the burned building in 1923.

The building was purchased in June 1990 by the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce for the future site of the museum. The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum offers a complete picture of the lives that revolved around the coal industry.

The second day of our trip was spent with the Kentucky Junior Coal Academy in Harlan. The Junior Coal Academy is part of a coal training initiative that offers extensive miner training programs at Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). Students were given the challenge to make their way through the smoke trailer mobile training unit using a cable and cone system. They were also shown the simulators used to teach about coal mining and visited a mock mine. 

As interesting as these activities were, the highlight of the trip was our overnight stay at Benham Schoolhouse Inn. In 1926, Wisconsin Steel built a state of the art all-grades school for the children of the Benham. In 1961, the last high school class was graduated from the school, which continued to serve as the local elementary until 1992. Today the school is a charming inn.  

While at the Inn, we were treated to a delicious catered dinner, a dance party, and a movie in the gym. Students and teachers are now preparing presentations about their KEY experiences that will be shared with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students in their schools. Thank you to all of our teachers and students who made this trip so enjoyable!

Bluegrass Greensource would like to thank the Department for Energy Development and Independence for providing funds for the Kentucky Energy for Youth program.

Students at Deep Springs Elementary told us about their favorite activities:

My experience at Portal 31 was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.  It included the most amazing effects in the portal.  Also I liked how it included two of my favorite things; rail rides and back in the day times. I learned a lot more about coal mines from this trip.  Like how there were life lines, and they had to crouch down to mine. I’m so thankful I got to go on this amazing experience.  Thank you!
-Leyla

The Kentucky Coal Academy was my favorite part of the trip because I had a great time in the simulation. And the gifts, such as a squishy coal lump and a keychain miner’s hat that lights up.
-Kyleigh

I am very thankful for the field trip being funded. I liked when we were in Portal 31.  I experienced that it was very hard for coal miners to work in the mountains. DEDI KEY field trip was very fun.
-James

I liked Portal 31.  I experienced a time before machines were made and why mining was a thing and why they started mining Black Mountain.
-Elijah

Teachers enjoyed the trip as well:

Portal 31 was by far the most beneficial stop.  It had the biggest impact on my students as to the history of coal and the finite supply we have.  What fun the Benham Schoolhouse Inn was.  The playground was a blast from the past!  My students had a grand time at the inn.  This was the EASIEST field trip I’ve ever been on with students.  Well done!
– Vivian Bowles, Kit Carson Elementary

We loved this trip!  I was honestly surprised at how informative and fun it was.   Playground break time was a huge plus.  Thank you so much for all your hard work organizing this for us.
– Stephanie Sawyer, Western Elementary

I’m glad we had the opportunity to attend this trip.  I know it was something my students would never get to experience if they didn’t get to go on this trip. I am thankful for the grant.
– Adonya Boyle, Cardinal Valley Elementary

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