You can’t understand the industrial history of Pennsylvania without understanding the history of coal mining in the state, and the Tour-Ed Coal Mine and Museum is a great place to learn all about it!
Located 20 minutes north of downtown Pittsburgh, the Tour-Ed Coal Mine and Museum features both an underground trip into a real coal mine, and a museum of mining-related artifacts on the surface.
History of the Tour-Ed Coal Mine
Mining activity at what was once called the Avenue Mine dates back as far as the 1850s, and continued there until the 1960s.
Ira Wood acquired the Avenue Mine in 1964 and embarked on a plan to convert the mine into a tourist attraction, to share the history and heritage of coal mining in Western PA.
When you visit what Mr. Wood renamed the Tour-Ed Coal Mine and Museum, one of the first buildings you’ll see is a log cabin that dates back to 1789.
Inside, you can watch a video about the life of Ira Woods and his vision for the coal mine and museum.
Exploring the Tour-Ed Coal Mine Museum
You can break down your visit to the Tour-Ed Coal Mine and Museum into two parts – one above ground, and one below!
The above-ground part consists of the museum and some additional mining-related equipment displayed near the parking area.
The museum features items from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, items that you would have found both in the mines and in the homes of coal miners in those time periods.
You’ll see a wide variety of coal mining-related tools, safety gear, and knick-knacks as you make your way in a loop around the museum.
As previously mentioned, near the parking area you’ll also see an assortment of mining-related equipment, including a caboose from the coal-hauling Pittsburg and Shawmut Railroad (not a typo – the railroad was chartered in 1899 when Pittsburgh was commonly spelled without the “h”).
Exploring the Tour-Ed Coal Mine
The highlight of a visit to the Tour-Ed Coal Mine is the chance to go underground – a half-mile underground to be precise!
The tour guide gives an initial introduction to the mine and distributes hard hats in this “coal classroom” in the basement of the museum.
Then visitors board an enclosed mine cart for the ride into the mine, which feels slightly cramped but not claustrophobic-cramped.
The tours are conducted by retired coal miners, so I felt like I was in capable hands as we rode for what seemed like 6-7 minutes to our destination 160 feet below the surface of the Earth.
The mine cart stops a half-mile into the mine, and visitors disembark for the walking portion of the tour.
Here you’ll visit a series of stations that depict coal mining methods and safety measures in different eras, from the 1850s to modern times.
These aren’t mere static exhibits either – at each station the tour guide briefly powers up the mining equipment, so you can see and hear exactly how this equipment worked.
Seeing this equipment in action really helped me gain a greater understanding and appreciation for how hard this line of work was and is, regardless of the era.
The underground portion of the tour lasts approximately 30 minutes, then you board the mine cart for the ride back to the surface.
Hours and Directions
The Tour-Ed Museum is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, with tours given Wednesday-Sunday at 10 am, 12 pm, and 2 pm.
Admission prices are adults $9.50 and children 12 & under $9.00.
The Tour-Ed Coal Mine and Museum is located at 748 Bull Creek Road, Tarentum, PA 15084.
The Tour-Ed Coal Mine also hosts a Haunted Mine Halloween attraction weekends in October – check their OFFICIAL WEBSITE for more info.
Touring the Carrie Blast Furnaces in Pittsburgh is a fantastic way to learn about the steel-making heritage of southwestern Pennsylvania!
The Carrie Blast Furnaces were in operation from 1884 until 1982, turning iron ore into purified, molten iron which was then used as an ingredient in the steel-making process.
Exploring the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center is another great way to learn about the coal, iron, and steel industries in western PA.
Here you’ll learn not only about the interdependence of these industries on each other, but about the everyday people who did the hard work to make it all happen.
If cultural history is your thing, then you’ve got to check out the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, the largest history museum in Pennsylvania!
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