A new exhibition at West Virginia University’s Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum explores the lives of miners and their families in the coal towns of Appalachia.
“Outside the Mine: Daily Life in a Coal Company Camp” focuses on four central components of our region’s coal communities—commerce and the company store, religion and faith, domestic work and activities and social time and leisure. The exhibition features historical artifacts and photographs from the days when coal was king.
From the late 19th- to the mid-20th centuries, self-contained communities called “coal camps” sprang up across the Appalachian landscape.
“Coal companies built homes, churches, schools and stores in the region’s remote coalfields to attract miners,” said Danielle Petrak, curator. “Although mining operations sustained these towns’ existence, there was more to life in coal camps than laboring underground.”
“Outside the Mine” illustrates how the spirit of hard work and sense of camaraderie typical among miners impacted the development of a distinct coal camp culture. Often isolated by geography and limited in their means, camp residents relied on coal companies for their basic needs and found creative ways to relax, socialize and entertain themselves. Company-provided amenities, including barber shops and post offices, fulfilled practical purposes but also served as social gathering spots. Many company stores contained saloons or social halls, and churches often sponsored youth socials and picnic dinners. Children created makeshift playgrounds out of mining equipment, while women kept each other company by tackling household chores with friends and relatives.
“Outside the Mine” is on view through July 2014. The Watts Museum is located in Room 125 of the Mineral Resources Building on the Evansdale campus of WVU. The Museum is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 1–4 p.m., and by appointment.
Admission is free, and parking is available at the WVU Coliseum. For more information, contact the museum at (304) 293-4609 or email@example.com.
Housed in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting the social, cultural and technological history of the coal, oil and natural gas industries of the state of West Virginia through the collection, preservation, research and exhibition of objects relevant to these industries.
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