Miners Museum plans Thursday event to reveal Memorial Brick Walkway

Lisa Pebley, volunteer curator at the Coal Creek Miners Museum in Rocky Top, shows the bricks that were offered for sale to be used in the museum’s Memorial Brick Walkway, which will be dedicated during a ceremony at 1 p.m. Thursday at the museum on South Main Street. (photo:G. Chambers Williams III )
Rocky Top’s Coal Creek Miners Museum plans a ribbon-cutting event tomorrow (Thursday, July 4) to reveal its new Memorial Brick Walkway, which is the result of a fund-raising campaign the museum began last fall to pay for upgrades, including the new second floor of exhibits.

The ribbon cutting will be held at 1 p.m., and later – beginning at 7 p.m. – the museum will hold a July 4 celebration, which will include live music, hot dogs, other snacks, drinks, and “light-up accessories” for sale at the museum site, 201 S. Main St..

In October, the museum began selling bricks to donors to raise money for the additions and improvements to the facility.

The museum said it aimed “to raise funds through the sale of personalized bricks that will be used to construct a commemorative pathway at the museum,” according to a flyer explaining the campaign.

Then, in early December, the museum was notified that it had been awarded a $50,000 grant from the state of Tennessee to help with the expansion.

The money from the state, awarded through a program of the Tennessee State Museum, has allowed the museum to add heating and air conditioning, along with ADA-compliant restrooms, to the second floor, according to an announcement by the state museum.

According to the announcement, “The Tennessee General Assembly made available $5 million in funding from the 2023-2024 Appropriations Act ‘for the sole purpose of providing grants to museums with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or affiliated with a governmental entity for capital maintenance and improvements.’”

“The funding … provided through this grant will give us a jump start on remodeling the second floor of the museum,” Tim Isbel, chairman of the Coal Creek Miners Museum’s board of directors, said at the time of the announcement.

“The HVAC and an ADA-compliant restroom are very important components in the remodeling project that will expand capacity, allowing us to display a more-extensive collection of artifacts and exhibits. This, in turn, enables us to offer a more comprehensive and immersive experience for visitors.”

Located in a former bank building next to City Hall in downtown Rocky Top, the museum is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of coal mining in the Coal Creek area, with emphasis on the industry’s impact on the region, and the tragedies that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of miners.

Volunteer curator Lisa Pebley said most of the money raised by the brick campaign would go toward finishing the second floor of the museum, which chronicles the local coal industry from the 1940s until its end in the early 2000s.

The main floor, which has been open several years, details the industry’s impact from its beginning in the 1800s when Henry Howard Wiley brought Welsh miners in to start mining in the area, through the war years in the 1940s, Pebley said.

The former bank vault on the main floor holds exhibits telling the story of the Fraterville mine explosion on May 19, 1902, which resulted in the deaths of 216 miners.

Bricks paid for by donors have been printed with information each one provided.

The bricks cost $100, $200, or $300 each, depending on the size (four by eight inches, or eight by eight inches) and the amount of text the donor chose.

The most expensive ones -- $300 – have custom logos on them.

“By participating in this project, individuals and organizations have the opportunity to contribute to the museum’s financial sustainability while leaving a lasting legacy in honor of a coal miner, a community member and/or a business partner,” a campaign flyer read.

“By selling personalized bricks, the museum aims to engage the local community, former coal miners, their families, and individuals passionate about preserving the history of coal mining,” it added.