In Southwestern Pennsylvania, coal is king. A massive part of the area’s cultural heritage, coal mines became the epicenters of towns that sprang up throughout the neighboring mountains. Several mines, many of them nationally-run companies like the U.S. Mining Company, Inc., still operate in and around the Ashland, Patton and Washington areas of Pennsylvania today.
The mining process is a fascinating and mysterious one, mostly because it was and still is an extremely dangerous profession that takes place deep below the surface of the Earth. Few know how a mine really works, and several miners stick to the adage “what happens in the mine stays in the mine” in order to keep their work and home lives separate. However, many mines, even some that were previously shut down, have reopened as tourist destinations in the hopes of letting the general public see something of this occupation in the dark.
Seldom Seen Coal Mine
Shipping out over 33,000 tons of coal by rail in its heyday during the 1940s, the Seldom Seen Mine evolved as a tourist operation from the Chest Creek Mine in 1963. This site offers visitors a day-in-the-life experience in a once working coal mine, from mining to shipping, complete with underground tour led by the descendants of real Chest Creek miners. If staying at one of the hotels in Washington PA near Patton in late October, stop by the Seldom Seen Mine for their haunted mine tour just in time for Halloween.
Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine & Steam Train
For 35 minutes, visitors ride in battery-operated open mine cars deep inside Manahoy Mountain, coming to a halt over 150 chilly feet below the Earth’s surface. From there, miners guide you through the mining process and point out some unique coal seams and passageway configurations along the way. Locomotive lovers will enjoy their 1920 narrow gauge steam train, dubbed The Henry Clay, as it chugs around the side of Manahoy Mountain to highlight the process of strip mining.
Groups travel below the surface like the coal miners of old and new as Tour-Ed mine takes visitors through what it’s like to be a miner back in the 1850s as well as today. The mine and neighboring museum also feature an authentic Pittsburgh & Shawmut railroad caboose, a log house from 1785, and an above-ground strip mine to view along with live demos and several authentic tools used through the ages. The below-ground mine has been altered to ensure visitor safety and comfort, utilizing real-life coal miners as your seasoned tour guides.
Whenever you embark on a mining tour, keep in mind that the underground temperature typically hovers around 52 degrees Fahrenheit, so a jacket or sweater is generally recommended. Also, claustrophobia can be a real issue with visitor and experienced miners alike, and most mine tours have several guides accompany each tour should you need someone to escort you swiftly back to the surface. Most mining museums are open Sunday through Thursday during the summer with selective tours only running during the cooler, rainier months.
Ann Bailey contributed this article on behalf of one of the hotels in Washington PA, the Doubletree by Hilton. Visitors staying in the Washington hotel can find a warm, comfortable, convenient place to start and end their daily tours of all the attractions in the area.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pawlowski/3648475544/