The Legend of John Henry

The railroad is one of the defining features of the West Virginia economy and its landscape. The tracks did not just lay themselves, though; they were built with the sweat and often the lives of men. One of these men is John Henry, known as the Steel Drivin’ Man’. Legend says that John Henry was the strongest and hardest working man on the rails. While working with the rest of the crew to build the Big Bend Tunnel through Big Bend Mountain, a traveling salesman came by selling a steam power drill that he claimed could out work any man. John Henry took that challenge and beat the drill in a digging contest. The effort was too much for John Henry however and he collapsed dead after his victory. The legend of John Henry still lives on in the small community of Talcott, where Big Bend Tunnel stands and where John Henry is supposed to have died.

This itinerary takes you through many small towns with local history, folk legends, an enormous flea market, general stores, historic buildings, an art gallery and more. You will be following the Greenbrier River and the all-important railroad for most of your journey.

  • Follow the Legend
  • Alderson is a quaint small town split by the Greenbrier River. Walk along historic main street and see the old train depot and be sure to stop into the historic Alderson Store. The pedestrian bridge is Alderson’s pride; the town saved the bridge from demolition and restored it to its current condition. The bridge spans the Greenbrier River. Take a walk out and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. If you are in West Virginia during Independence Day, make sure to be in Alderson. Their 4th of July Celebration cannot be beat. A few miles down Route 63 is the Greenbrier River Company at the Greenbrier River Campground. They offer several ways to have fun on the Greenbrier River, including tubing and paddling.

  • These are two small communities on Route 12, where you can visit the Pence Springs Flea Market, the Graham House and One Room Schoolhouse and Lowell Market, a local favorite. It may just look like a gas station convenience store, but inside you can order the best fried chicken around. Wind your way to the back of the store, sit down and relax as you experience some good ol’ country cooking.

  • Talcott is the home of The Steel Driving Man. A statue of John Henry stands here as a tribute to the legend and the railroad workers of the past and present. When you turn off Route 12, drive along the railroad tracks to the John Henry park.

  • Forest Hill is a small community with a beautiful little art gallery. A few miles up the road is Marie, where Emma Jean’s General Store has served the surrounding area for many decades.