Historic Markers Across Alabama

John Henry

Marker ID:  
Location: on Thornton Avenue, Leeds, Alabama
County: Jefferson
Coordinates: N 33° 32.634    W 086° 32.352
  33.5439    -86.5392
Style: Free Standing **
Waymark: None


John Henry
Ledgendary 'Steel Drivin' Man'

The story of "steel driving' man" John Henry is one of America's most enduring legends. The strong ex-slave became a folk hero during construction of the Columbus & Western Railroad between Goodwater and Birmingham. He drilled holes for explosives used to blast tunnels. According to legend, he was involved in a race against a steam-powered drill that its manufacturer claimed could do the job faster than a man. Witnesses said after the all-day contest that he and his heavy hammer cleared substantially more feet than the steam drill. Versions of the blues song 'John Henry' relate how the powerful man won the contest but died from exhaustion, his "hammah" in his hand. He supposedly was buried nearby. Although other states claim John Henry, noted Georgia folklore researcher John Garst found evidence that the event occurred near Dunnavant on September 20, 1887, at either the Big Oak Tunnel or Coosa Tunnel, two miles apart. Source: "Historic Birmingham & Jefferson County" By James R. Bennett

End of John Henry