Finding John Henry, the Real Steel Driving Man

Where I'm staying, eating and playing while researching the legend of John Henry.


Finding John Henry, the Real Steel Driving Man

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Carter on February 5, 2006

Working on a feature about John Henry results in a tour of Appalachia--festivals, attractions and more in WV and Kentucky.${QuickSuggestions} Stop by the New River Gorge visitors center; it's a great source of tourist info, the park rangers are extremely helpful, and the view is breathtaking.

Tamarack, in Beckley, is a traveller's oasis. Visit the huge rest area, (with lots of food selections and a Starbucks), and the exhibition center. ${BestWay} You can fly into Beckley. If you want a scenic tour of a side of the mountains you'll never see from the highway, take a cab or drive to the Amtrak station at Prince.

The train ride from Prince (just a little east of Beckley) to Hinton (home of Big Bend) is beautiful. The Appalachian mountains tower on one side of the track, the New River flows on the right.

And the train goes through a tunnel right beside the one John Henry is said to have dug. Extremely cool. The Prince train station is incredibly picturesque, with its track overlooking the river and coal trains rumbling by.

Howard Johnson's

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Carter on March 26, 2006

I didn't have the best image in my head of what a Howard Johnson's would be like. My only association with it in the past was the restaurant in Times Square, which is pretty cool but nothing spectacular.

I was pleasantly surprised. The rooms are very nicely decorated. They're much more homey than motels in this price range usually are. The amenities here seem great. My room had a refrigerator, microwave, and coffeemaker. There was even a washer and dryer on my floor. There's also a semi-decent continental breakfast.

The downside is that there's no elevator. But room keys also open back and side doors to the hotel, which makes it easier to move stuff in and out of. Its location is good, with a CVS right across the street.

Biggest downside—no elevator and a room on the second floor. Biggest positive—continental breakfast with coffee that tasted very good. The donuts were a little on the spongy side, but I don't have much appetite in the morning.
Howard Johnson Express Inn
1907 Harper Road
Beckley, West Virginia, 25801
(304) 255-5900

Courtyard by Marriott

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Carter on March 26, 2006

This place looks great on the Internet, not so great in person. It's like "Jury Duty," you know, the Adam Sandler movie? Well, in it they take the jurors to this seemingly beautiful hotel. One part is beautiful inside as well as out, but the wing they stay in is horrible. That's what this was kind of like. The place looks great on the Internet, but in person it is a totally different creature.

The atmosphere wasn't so hot, kind of Motel 6-ish (NOT that there's anything wrong with that, but we just expected a little more from a Marriott). The beds were hard, but the overall condition of everything was good. And they do have cab service and decent coffee in the rooms.
Courtyard by Marriott Beckley
124 Hylton Lane
Beckley, West Virginia, 25801
(304) 252-9800

Rio Grande Mexican Restaurante

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carter on February 5, 2006

Sick of the plentiful but mundane offerings of the chain restaurants that surround Beckley's hotels, I ventured off the beaten path. Blindly following windy mountain roads, I hit pay-dirt. Rio Grande, a casual, family restaurant, has some of the best Mexican food I've ever had. Our food came out quickly, in spite of the fact that the place had quite a dinner crowd. Everything was cooked to perfection. Cracker Barrel is fine for breakfast, but definitely eat here for lunch and/or dinner.
Rio Grande Mexican Restaurante
4006 Robert C. Byrd Drive
Beckley, West Virginia, 25801
(304) 252-7488

John Henry Monument

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Carter on February 5, 2006

This is highly recommended because it's at the tunnel he may have helped dig, home of the famous contest with the steam drill. However, I'm appalled. Really.

John Henry deserves much more than just a statue at his tunnel. Maybe one day there will be more here. and you can go down from the statue to see the original Big Bend Tunnel, but you have to be careful since trains still use the new tunnel right beside it.

A small statue for a huge man, literally and figuratively. Smithsonian, if you're out there, do something for John Henry. I mean, he's the epitome of man vs. machine, working man vs. industrialization....
Home of John Henry
Hinton
Beckley, West Virginia

Hinton, WV

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carter on February 5, 2006

This quaint little mountain town is believed to have once been the home of John Henry. At nearby Big Bend Tunnel, the legendary railroad worker beat a steam drill in the early days of industrialization. Peabody, the 'company store' railroad owner mentioned in one the folk songs about John Henry, still owns railroads in this coal-mining area today.
You can take the train to Hinton from scenic Prince and pass right by the infamous Big Bend Tunnel on the way. In the town's historic district, you'll find quaint antique shops, a railroad museum, a charming barber shop and cute little restaurants. The scenery is breath taking.
Home of John Henry
Hinton
Beckley, West Virginia

Taxidermy Museum

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Carter on February 5, 2006

I know it may seem gruesome to some of you, but this place really is neat if you're not squeamish or opposed to taxidermy. The museum is a small area off of a gift shop.

The shop is well worth a visit, with or without a look at the exhibits. I found the neatest Indian headdresses and tomahawks for my son and a 6-year old friend there! We also left with a little Indian drum.

The exhibit features animals that were alive long ago (no one's going out and stuffing them now or anything). Many are exotic and all are interesting to see. Other artifacts are featured as well.

The drive down Hinton Bypass is beautiful, and you'll find other little general store-type shops along here. Prices are extremely low and offerings are usually quite unique.
Taxidermy Museum
Hinton Bypass
Beckley, West Virginia

The Railway Museum

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Carter on February 5, 2006

This is a small but interesting place. It's a fun diversion, particularly for children. The museum features artifacts and photographs from decades of railroad history. The museum also features folk-art wood sculptures of figures in the John Henry legend.

They're lovely but really, as I said about the statue at Big Bend, this is it? One of our most beloved folk heroes and all he gets is a statue and some sculptures? Not even a history of African American railroad workers or something like that to read with photos to look at? It makes no sense to me. Someone call the Smithsonian; quick!
Railway Museum
206 Temple Street
Beckley, West Virginia

Unkl Rays

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carter on January 25, 2007

This place is an incredibly unique oasis. Right by the beautiful, rushing New River, Unkl Rays waits for you to discover it. Live entertainment is featured nightly. Tables are made of drums (and there are sticks and cowbells you can play while you wait for your food). Instruments hang on the walls and musicians are invited to take them down and play on open mike nights. Also a center for JESCO fest, an annual event held to benefit Jesco White, one of the last to perform a unique style of Appalachian dance. Great music from all over the country. One night I saw a reggae band, the next country.

Fosters Bar and Restaurant

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carter on January 25, 2007

If you go to downtown Beckley around midnight, you'll find this local gem gleaming vibrantly in an otherwise deserted square. A local hangout, the food is fantastic and the staff is fun and friendly in the best of laid-back ways. It's very Hemmingway, but a clean, dim-lighted place rather than well-lighted one. Also features live entertainment and is open and still serving food when just about everywhere else has already closed.
Fosters Bar and Restaurant
121 Main St.
Beckley, West Virginia, 25801
(304) 253-1439

Bridge Day

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Carter on January 26, 2007

This grand spectacle, where participants engage in death-defying jumps and other amazing feats, is held annually at New River Gorge Bridge, just outside of Beckley. The largest festival in the country, with over 200,000 attending. Be prepared to walk a lot--but it's fun.
New River Gorge Bridge
Route 19
Beckley, West Virginia

Jesco Fest

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carter on January 26, 2007

An annual event held right by the John Henry Monument/Big Bend Tunnel to help the legendary Dancing Outlaw, Jesco White. Jesco is the star of a documentary and was almost featured on the Rosanne Show, (but he was a bit extreme for them). Bands come from all over the country to participate. Almost as much fun as Bridge Day, more so if you like Appalachian tradition and great music.
Jesco Fest

Beckley, West Virginia

New River Gorge Grandview

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Carter on January 26, 2007

This fabulous park features a spectacular view of the mountains and the gorge. There's also a huge playground and a ton of trails. Wildlife abounds--we saw deer, bluebirds, hosts of butterflies; a fantastic place to stop and take a break from driving.
New River Gorge Bridge
Route 19
Beckley, West Virginia

Appalachian String Festival

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carter on January 26, 2007

A weekend-long festival featuring string bands from all over the country and tons of family fun like square dancing and clogging (complete with lessons), yoga for kids and adults and more. Fantastic food (like fried green tomato sandwiches) and vendors with unique jewelry and instruments, among many other cool arts and crafts abound. Hear some of the best musicians in the country, in old-time, neo-traditional and bluegrass categories.
Appalachian String Band Music Festival
Hc 35, Box 5
Clifftop, 25831
(304) 438-3005

Fraley Fest

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Carter on January 27, 2007

This cool old-time music and arts festival used to be a family reunion but has now grown to a full-fledged phenomenon. People came from all over the world to listen to and participate in workshops on old time music and lyrics. Great activities for kids, camping and lots of families were there. All in a beautiful setting (Carter Caves even has a 'bat cave' -- something that appealed greatly to my little boy.
Carter Caves State Resort Park
Along Tygarts Creek
Carter County, Kentucky
(606) 286-4411

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