With almost all fairs, festivals and summer concerts across the region canceled, many area residents are still looking for something to do during our pandemic-disrupted summer. Here is a great option that is close to home. The Historic Pocahontas Exhibition Mine in Tazewell County is now open with new additions and improvements.

The exhibition mine, a true tourism jewel for the region, takes visitors underground to see how coal was produced in the 19th century. The Pocahontas mine was the first in Southwest Virginia. Coal mined there fueled ships of the U.S. Navy through World War I and World War II. It employed hundreds of coal miners until its closure in 1958.

During the last two years, local and state officials have been working to enhance the mine, which was closed for two seasons to allow for renovations. The improvements were funded through two grants from the Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program administered by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME). 

The town of Pocahontas received $1.5 million in 2018 for safety improvements inside the mine and to turn the bathhouse and community room into restaurant space. In 2019, another $379,178 was awarded from the DMME pilot program for more improvements at the exhibition mine. One improvement, which is still in the development stage, will include the addition of motorized tours into the mine.

The town is still waiting for three golf carts, each able to carry eight people into the mine, to be delivered, according to Mayor Benjamin Gibson. They will be used as part of the new motorized system.

“The mine is open, the museum really looks great, and they’ve done great work with the pilot program,” Gibson said earlier this month.

Phase I of the improvements included stabilizing the mine, then building a 2,200 square-foot restaurant and doing cosmetic upgrades in the mine’s museum. The plan is currently in Phase II, which includes installing the restaurant’s equipment. The museum’s parking lot also has been paved and its restrooms renovated.

Gibson said the future restaurant’s name, the 9’ 13’, reflects the height of the mine’s coal seam. The restaurant’s opening date has not been set yet, but he says the hope is to have it open in a couple of months. This new business will have an industrial theme featuring the mining industry and its history.

By providing guided tours and a restaurant, the hope is that visitors will spend a few more hours in the town, Gibson said.

There are many local residents in our region who have never been inside of the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine, despite the fact that it is located in our own backyard. Now would be a great time for those individuals to take a guided tour into our region’s rich coal-mining history. And the same goes for those citizens who haven’t been to the mine in years. Now would be a great time to see all of the new additions and improvements that have been made over the past two years.

The mine is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Groups of 12 or more should call 276-945-9522 or send an email to pocahontasva@comcast.net to schedule a tour of the Exhibition Mine.

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