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Thursday, Dec. 4, 2003 02:20 pm

Miner turns curator to share coal’s story

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You could say William Stone has coal in his veins.

After more than three decades working for Mr. Peabody's coal company and more than a decade in retirement, Stone opened a museum devoted to -- what else? -- Illinois solid black gold.

Located off of the Taylorville town square, the Christian County Coal Mine Museum celebrates a legacy that started with a mine in Blueville in 1872 and ended -- for now -- with the mid-'90s closing of Peabody Coal's giant Mine 10. The museum's collection includes a wide range of mining gear, including tool belts, lamps and oxygen tanks; old photos and news stories; handmade replicas of coal-mining equipment; and items handcrafted from coal. Many of the items come from private collectors and retirees, like Stone.

The collection was originally displayed in the Kincaid High School library, Stone says, at the instigation of Principal Art Anthony, who wanted something about mining history at the school. In 2002, the school's art instructor borrowed the items to use in a town window-display contest. "Will called me and said come look at the display," says Ronald Verbiski, a long-time friend of Stone's. "It was the best display on the square." After winning the contest, the collection returned to the high school, but space considerations forced Stone to find a new location. He approached A.J. McKinney, owner of Perfection Paint and Body Works, who offered Stone a room in his building.

Stone built shelving and installed carpeting and his wife, JoAnn, painted the walls. "If it wasn't for Will, this place wouldn't be here," Verbiski says. "He puts in lots of hours." Stone, 70, and Verbiski, 65, worked together as roof bolters at Peabody Mine 10. Stone retired in 1991; Verbiski, in 1999.

Since its opening in June, the museum has attracted visitors from as far away as Oregon and South Carolina. The visitors tend to be elderly folks with some connection to mining. Stone would like to change that: His goal is to teach young people about coal's legacy. "This gives kids a chance to learn about coal mining," he says.

The Christian County Coal Mine Museum is located at 115 N. Washington St. in Taylorville. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 9 a.m.-noon Sat. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. For more information, call 217-823-1215.

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