Learning Mining History at the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour in Scranton

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During my travels around Pennsylvania and the world, I’ve been down in my fair share of caverns. However, until recently, I had never been into a mine. Given Pennsylvania’s rich mining history, I jumped at the chance to check out the Lackawanna Coal Mine on the outskirts of Scranton.

The Lackawanna Coal Mine opened in 1860 and is set in the Northern Anthracite Coal Field, the largest of four coal fields in Pennsylvania. Before opening the mine, engineers had to figure out how to drain the entire valley of water to a depth of hundreds of feet. The mine operated for the next century, before finally closing in 1966.

Inside the Lackawanna Coal Mine in Scranton PA
The starting point for tours inside the Lackawanna Coal Mine.

The mine sat abandoned for several years before finally being stabilized and opened for tours in 1985. Over the last 30 years, thousands of visitors have taken the ride 300 feet below the earth’s surface to learn what life was like for the coal miners that once helped power this country.

Tours of the Lackawanna Coal Mine and its history start from the modern visitor center next to the mine entrance. Not to be confused with the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine tour in Ashland, PA, you can browse the gift shop or watch a short film while you wait for your tour to start. Hard hats are required for all visitors and jackets are available to borrow (the mine is a constant 53 degrees).

To get into the mine, a mine car takes you down a very steep embankment to get below ground. It reminded me of the slow progress up the hill for a roller coaster, but instead, you are going downhill backwards into darkness. After a few minutes, however, the trip to the bottom ends.

Touring the Lackawanna County Coal Mine in Scranton PA
This mine car takes you 300 feet below ground and into the mine.

The tour starts off in the Clark Bed. The entrance that visitors take today was never the mine’s main entrance, but was dug in later years as the mine was slowly shutting down. The hour-long tour of the mine is led by an experienced miner. My tour guide, Lou, was a fifth generation coal miner who had worked in mines a bit south of Scranton.

He took us around the mine, through three different coal beds, and explained how the mine worked, how it was kept safe, and what conditions were like for the miners. Throughout the mine, mannequins are set up to show workers going about their daily routine. To be honest, the first mannequin I saw startled me for a second as I wasn’t expecting to see a person down the passage.

Touring the Lackawanna County Coal Mine in Scranton PA
The tour starts with an introduction to the mine.

In one corner of the mine was a collection of mining equipment. My guide spent some time going over the items and how a miner would get the coal and how that coal would make its way to the surface.

One of the most common ways was through mule drawn carts, which were led around by children. Before the advent of child-labor laws, children were a common sight in the mines and would often work very long hours for meager pay. There is a mannequin on display of a child leading a mule through the mine.

Lackawanna County Coal Mine Diorama
Several dioramas show what life was like for workers in the mine.

One thing that really impressed me as I went through the mine was the quality of the mine and how easy it was to move around. Thanks to strict laws, the mine is still inspected daily by a mine foreman and has to go through regular inspections to ensure safety. Because of these safety standards, the mine looked like a group of workers could walk back in any day and restart operations in the mine.

All too soon, the tour of the mine was over, and it was time for our 3-4 minute journey back above ground. Once back to the surface, take some time to check out the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum, which is located right next door, or the rest of McDade Park.

 inside the Lackawanna Coal Mine in Scraton's McDade Park.
Another look inside the Lackawanna Coal Mine in Scranton’s McDade Park.

I really can’t say enough good things about my experience at the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour in Scranton. Other than being underground, it’s hard to make any similarities to being in a cavern, so this is definitely something to do even if you’ve seen more caves than you can shake a stick at. 

Being underground and learning what life was like for the people who worked there definitely gave me a new appreciation for coal miners and the work that they have done to build the country and continue to do.

Note: My visit to the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour was hosted by the Lackawanna County Visitors Bureau. However, the opinions expressed are my own.

Check out our favorite things to do in the Scranton area including a pizza crawl through Old Forge.


Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour

Hours: Daily: 10am-3pm
Must arrive by 2:45pm
April-November

Cost: Adults: $10, Children: $7.50

Website: LackawannaCounty.org

Address: 1 Bald Mountain Rd
McDade Park
Scranton, PA 18504

 

See map below for other area attractions.


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5 thoughts on “Learning Mining History at the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour in Scranton”

  1. I have been on this tour three times and it still gives me goosebumps. The things these people did and how hard they worked under extreme conditions shows how strong they were. This is a real eye opener to what a hard days work really means.

  2. This was so interesting. I too, went down into the Lackawanna Coal Mines and took the tour. My dad and my uncles all worked in the mines. We’ve heard many stories about their jobs. I’ve also heard about the mule drawn carriage. My uncle led one more than 100 years ago. We have a wonderful heritage and I am so proud to be from Northeastern Pennsylvania.
    Thank God for people who took their jobs as seriously as the coal miners did. Some of those men had to quit school at an early age to work the mines to be able to hand over their pay check to their parents to help keep the family in a home with food and heat in the winter. These coal miners worked in such extreme cold and heat. My mom had seven brothers and they all worked the mines, My moms job was to clean the lunch pails at night after her brother’s returned home from work. Can you imagine what those coal pals were like? They were covered in coal dust and they were filthy dirty. My mom’s reward was sitting on the porch in the evening hearing her brothers sing. Wow! They still had something to sing about!!!

  3. I am working on my family history and found out that several of my relatives came from Scotland /Ireland to work in the PA mines. I need to go visit here this summer. Thanks for sharing this info.

  4. One fact not usually told on tours is that the Lackawanna County # 190 Slope Coal Mine tour is unique in all America. No other mine tour operates a hoisting system the way its done here. Especially making a full 90 degree turn while descending the slope. The fully enclosed man trip car used to lower visitors into the mine is a one of a kind custom built car and it’s safety brake system was developed just for this car and the slope it travels.
    Since motor traction is not required the rails are oiled daily to prevent pitting from moisture and allows the fixed wheel axles on the car to slide easily on the first sharp 45 degree turn.

  5. My family is from Scranton and Dunmore. I worked in Scranton as a Television news reporter in the 80’s. It was a wonderful time as so much was happening, Steamtown and the Coal Mine Tour were just two. I went down in the mine several times before it was open as a tourist attraction. Tom Supey and his sons were in charge of getting it set up. I was back a few years ago when my mother was working in the museum, and took my neice and nephew down. Beware, my nephew was a bit claustrophobic, he got more anxious the deeper we went, and once at the bottom, the crew was kind enough to take him and me back topside, and bring me down again to rejoin the tour. It was amazing to see how they had updated the mine tour. Every time I go back, it’s a must see. As far as I know none of my family worked IN the mines, but I know my grandfather worked topside. I did a story on the Throop mine disaster which took many lives, and showed just how dangerous working in a mine can be.

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