Stone Heritage Museum a real local treasure
STONE, Ky. - Snuggled deep up a narrow hollow road in Pike County, Kentucky, is the Stone Heritage Museum full of historical artifacts and items from the era of the coal camp communities and company stores.
Stone is an unincorporated community formed around 1912 and a former coal mining village in eastern Kentucky. Stone was named for Galen Stone, head of the Pond Creek Coal Company, which was based in the area near Belfry, Ky. In 1922, the Pond Creek Coal Company was sold to Fordson Coal Company, which was a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. In 1936, Fordson sold the mine to Eastern Coal Company, which operated for many years.
Stone is located near Williamson, West Virginia, just a short 8-mile drive.
Prominent American industrialist Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, established a coal business in Stone to help power his automotive business. This was once one of the largest coal mining operations in Appalachia, with large daily production of tons of the bituminous mineral. The operation once employed around 1,500 men and proved to be an essential economic resource in the area.
The museum has a framed photo of Ford in one section.
Peggy King is one of the founding board members of the Stone Heritage Museum and the organization’s secretary. The retired hospital worker grew up in the neighborhood and recalls what it was like growing up in the community. In fact, her first job was working in the payroll department as a clerk for the coal company as a 17-year high school senior.
“We haven’t purchased any of the displays. There are things we were able to accumulate - they were either donated or are on loan,” King said. “We have a nice collection.”
“Several of these cases are Bruce May’s,” King added. “It is just a hodge-podge of different things he had.”
May is a local collector of memorabilia, especially from the Pond Creek and Belfry areas.
The Stone Heritage Museum was the result of the vision by several in the Stone community in an effort to preserve their coal mining heritage. The museum features a wide variety of artifacts and antiques. There is a plethora of items in different rooms. One room is the company store, complete with old advertising signs and items. There are also old photographs, coal mining memorabilia, dentist and doctor’s office items, early publications, news clippings, scrapbooks, household items, sports items, school mementos and much more. Many of the items are displayed in glass cases.
“We have letters signed by five former UMWA presidents going back to John L. Lewis,” said King. “We are very proud of that collection. We also have a coal company script collection.”
King said the museum also has records of Joe Kennedy, father of former President John F. Kennedy, where he purchased stock in the coal company once owned by Henry Ford.
Like most coal camps, it was a self-sufficient community with a company store, doctor, movie theater, school and much more. The company store, like many others that scattered the region, stocked the very latest clothing, home accessories and furniture, as well as groceries and cleaning supplies.
King is one of those who will host tours of the coal company building, which was first made into a museum back 2004. Over the last few years the museum has been improved and more antiques and displays have been added.
Bill and Darlene Ball, now owner of the beautiful, brick mine superintendent’s home, host events at their historic house. Bill Ball is the president of the organization and one of the driving forces behind keeping the museum open and the heritage alive.
Stone is located near other coal camp towns such as McAndrews, McVeigh, Hardy and over Ball Fork Mountain, communities like Blackberry and Ransom.
It was Eastern Coal that began marketing their product as “Red Robin” coal. A large sign was painted on the side of the recreational building and has been repainted over the years.
Pond Creek Coal, like many other coal companies and communities, fielded a baseball team. This provided a lot of entertainment for residents, especially on weekends. People would pack picnic lunches and watch baseball doubleheaders and cheer on their teams in the summer months. Stone had the Red Robin team.
Families could see different movies each week at the Stone Theater. On Tuesdays it was “Bingo Night.” Those who attended could play bingo and win prizes.
Company doctors kept office hours, made house calls, and provided emergency care on site, especially at the coal mines. There is a wall at the museum of mothers and their newborns that were delivered by a company doctor.
King said the Stone Heritage Museum will still take donations or display vintage items that are loaned by families.
In 2005, the officers and the board of directors decided to focus on the main floor of the old brick office building to house the museum and make improvements.
The Stone Museum volunteers have accepted the challenge by surviving on donations for the worthwhile project. They donate their time as a labor of love. King said she would like to see the younger generation get more involved and help with the non-profit group. They meet at 6:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month in the Appalachian First Response office, which is located in one of the three historic coal company buildings.
“We need some new members to help us because we are getting up there in age,” King stressed. “We are still plugging away.
The Stone Heritage Museum is open the first Saturday of every month and by appointment. To plan your group’s visit to the Stone Heritage Museum call 606-237-5100 or 606-237-6099.
Kyle Lovern is the editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at 304-236-3526 or via email at klovern@HDMediallc.com.