NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

Get Down To Earth In Pocahontas, Virginia

By: Michelle Harper

Pocahontas Coal MineOne of the first sights visitors are greeted with as they enter Pocahontas, VA on Rt, 644 is that an old church surrounded by a rather large cemetery along the winding roadside - a permanent symbol of the life and death of coal miners and the town itself. This solemn ground was established as the result of a disastrous coal mining fire in 1884. In a single incident the town officially lost 120 husbands, fathers, grandfathers, sons and brothers. Tragically, the true numbers may actually reflect an even higher number of 170 as many men took their children to work in the mines with them. This place alone perhaps tells the greatest story of the sacrifice and hard work of the many laborers consisting of immigrants straight from Ellis Island, sharecroppers and other impoverished or displaced people who came to the area to make their fortune and seek freedom

Pocahontas Coal MineLocated in southwestern Virginia, this small town was once a bustling community created by the opening of Pocahontas Coal Mine #3, which produced 44 million tons of coal from 1882 to 1955. The coal was favored by the US Navy because it produced a unique white smoke that was virtually invisible to the enemy. Today, the mine is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Pocahontas is also home to Virginia's Official Coal Heritage Museum, which pays tribute to an industry rich in history and diversity.

Pocahontas Coal MineThe mine was opened as an exhibition mine in 1938. Its high ceilings enable visitors to actually walk upright throughout - a rarity in the coal industry as miners typically work in spaces only 3 - 6 feet high. Standing is a luxury reserved for non-working hours. The mine offers a glimpse into the hard and dangerous life of a miner from its early beginnings when the only tools of the trade were a man, his pick, his coal cart and a few mules to the present day high tech hydraulic machinery that completes what was once a days work in as little as 25 minutes.

Pocahontas Coal MineOur guided tour was as down to earth as the mining industry, giving us a realistic and non-glamorous look at the world of coal mining. We were informed that over the years mining has become safer through the implementation of new machinery. However, working deep in the earth with tons of rock overhead is inherently dangerous regardless of the technology. Even today, approximately 120 people die in the mines every year.

Pocahontas Coal MineWe were provided candid information on the treatment of coal miners, especially in the early days. Depending on the point of view, miners were either well cared for or the mining companies took advantage of them. Regardless of opinion, the facts are that miners lived in houses provided by the company and were paid in script, that was only valid at the company store. If a minor met with an untimely death the family had 6 weeks to vacate or for the woman to marry another miner. Such was life in a mine-town. Despite this harsh lifestyle, or perhaps because of it, mining towns had a strong sense of community.

Pocahontas Coal MineOur guide also pointed out that besides providing a place to work and live, the mine provided other benefits to the town of Pocahontas. In 1903 the mine started making electricity from its coal. They began sharing this electricity with the town beginning in 1913. The mining company also provided workers with hot showers after each workday, another rare commodity in those days. This privilege was also extended at no cost to the entire town on every Saturday.

Today, the company store is a thing of the past. Many mines are idle or under-utilized. The future of the coal mining is less than optimistic. Time will tell whether or not the business will turn around. Regardless of your feelings about mining, a visit to Pocahontas, VA will leave you with a healthy respect for the industry and the workers who built it and keep it going.


April 2 - May 28th (Weekends Only)
Saturday 10:00 am- 5:00 pm
Sunday 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm

May 28 - Sept 30th
Wednesday - Saturday 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Sunday 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm


$8.50 adults
$5.50 Children

Directions: I-77 towards Bluefield, VA, Right onto US 52, Right on US 460, Left on Rt 52, Right on Rt. 102, Right on Rt. 644, Right on Rt. 659 Exhibition Mine Rd.

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