The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

January 24, 2014

Lamenting center's closure | Mining museum hurt by low turnout

JOHNSTOWN — In a case of life imitating art imitating life, the Windber Coal Heritage Center has closed.

It’s been a difficult few years for the coal industry, especially in our region. A recent news report revealed that Somerset County-based PBS Coals has slashed its workforce from 1,000 in 2011 to about 450 now.

Now the museum that honored the hard-working men who built so many local communities around the bituminous coal industry has closed.

Reporter David Hurst broke the news on Monday that the museum, which opened in 1997, will not reopen. Officials had previously hoped that the museum, which had closed briefly several times in the past few years, could reopen under new management.

Rosebud Mining Co., which bought the former Berwind-White Coal Mining post office on

15th Street in Windber, has seen the number of visitors to the museum drop substantially over the years. Chris Barkley, the center’s director, told Hurst that the museum, which once welcomed 32,000 visitors per year, was barely drawing a fifth of that total in recent years.

Barkley blamed some of that on a sluggish economy that has limited the amount of disposable income for people in the region.

“Economic difficulties ... definitely changed the number of people coming through the doors,” he said “It’s sad. But we’re lucky we were able to keep the center going as long as we did.”

While we hate to see the museum and the educational opportunities that it afforded to its visitors go, the heritage center and its supporters are making the best of a bad situation.

Rosebud Mining has agreed to donate the building, which it bought for $250,000 four years ago, to Windber Medical Center. Plans for the building have not been finalized, according to CEO Barbara Cliff, but she said the hospital plans to use it “... in a way that is meaningful to the community and in line with Windber Medical Center’s charitable mission.”

The other silver lining in the closing is that the artifacts that once made the museum so popular are being transferred to the Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation’s visitor’s center.

“It’s an incredible gift for us to not only receive these artifacts as a donation but to continue the heritage of our local area,” said William Arnold, the foundation’s executive director.

Quecreek, the scene of the dramatic rescue of nine trapped miners in 2002, attracts nearly 10,000 visitors a year, according to Arnold.

We’re encouraged to know that some of the heritage center’s fantastic mining artifacts will find a home – and an appreciative audience – there.

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