This is the story of a man who took on a challenge… against technology. What was this challenge? It was the hammer in the hand of John Henry versus the steam-powered drill. The year was 1870 in a valley in south-southeastern West Virginia. Who was victorious? It should be obvious. There is no possibility that man can win against modern technology… unless you are John Henry. That is the truth. John Henry using just his hammer and the strength of the muscles in his arms defeated the steam-powered drill. It was a challenge that made him victorious… and sadly ended his life. When the challenge was over, he dropped his hammer… and he fell over and died. He became an American folk hero in the years following with a famous song plus a few movies. His story continues to live on through the years.
Now some of you are saying, “This is such an amazing story, and he was an amazing man. It is so sad that he died the way he did. Does that interest me? No. He may be great folklore, but I enjoy hearing stories about trains. Therefore, I will not be that interested in the life of John Henry.”
John Henry was an African-American man who was very muscular. Very little is known about his birth or about his life. He was famed for swinging a hammer to drive spikes to create holes for explosives. What were the explosives for? He was a railroad worker for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, and the explosives were used to blast out tunnels. He was working on the Great Bend Tunnel near Talcott, West Virginia where his big challenge against the steam-powered drill took place, and it is said that he was buried somewhere near the east portal of the tunnel.
Not as many people may not know about John Henry today as they did in the past, but his legacy as a hard-working man and a worker on the railroad continues. The John Henry Historical Park was established to commemorate this great man. The statue that was originally erected in 1972 on the Big Bend Mountain overlooking the current site park was relocated to the east port of the Great Bend Tunnel in 2014 where it can be seen by everyone who visits the Great Bend Tunnel.
The John Henry Historical Park is located on West Virginia Routes 3 and 12 on the west side of the town center of Talcott, West Virginia. The park is open from dawn to dusk all year round. There is no admission. The park consists of the statue of John Henry, the east portal of the Great Bend Tunnel (entry into the tunnel is not permitted), ruins of the equipment used to build the tunnel, a monument to the workers plus the replacement tunnel and the relocated railroad line that is still active. You can learn more about the park at www.johnhenryhistoricalpark.com.
The John Henry Historical Park is a great place of history, a place that inspired a legend and folk hero, and, in you are fortunate enough, a place where you can watch a train pass through a tunnel.