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Research Notes

Family-Friendly Appalachian Research Sites


Portal 31 is located in Lynch, Kentucky. It is an exhibition of an abandoned coal mine that had been run by U. S. Steel in Harlan County. This is very kid-friendly. You get to ride into the coal mine on a small rail car and eventually end up about 750 feet underground. I highly recommend it. My child looked scared, so the person working there gave them a big lump of coal to take home.


Kentucky Coal Museum is located in Benham, Kentucky. Benham used to be a coal town. The school for coal miners' children is now a hotel. I stayed there with my youngest child when I went for a visit to the museum. It was cool and kind of creepy (but in a good way). We slept in what used to be a classroom. They loaned us a board game to play. I highly recommend staying there - the walls were lined with pictures of people who lived in Benham.


Blue Heron is an abandoned coal town that has been turned into a really nice exhibit. Many of the buildings are only there in fragments, but frames have been built around them so you can get an idea of their original size and layout. I found the bathhouse structure to be absolutely fascinating. This was awesome enough that I have been there twice. We got there by train from Sterns, Kentucky, via the Big Fork Scenic Railway. The train staff are also musicians who perform in the train station before it leaves. It is wonderful. 

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