Legend says Big John was more than just a man.

He was a big man, a steel driving man.

And now the African American folk hero has been honored in a big way.

The long-awaited John Henry Historical Park in Talcott is now open to the public.

It’s been drawing plenty of visitors, and lots of praise too.

That’s a big deal, especially since the idea originated in 1968.

When officials made the decision to move forward, it still took 17 years to make the dream a reality.

Community collaboration was the long-term key to its success, along with others who believed in the vision.

“Seventeen years ago, the first money was awarded to this project,” said Christy Bailey of the National Coal Heritage Authority.

“For 17 years, we’ve been in a partner in the development of this park. Throughout that time, I’ve been amazed to watch the John Henry Park Steering Committee, along with other volunteers.”

Bailey made her remarks at the July 7 dedication ceremony for the new  Summers County landmark.

Park features include an iconic statue of John Henry, a picnic area, a interactive educational kiosk, picnic shelter and walking trails.

The statute, which is 8 feet tall and weighs 2.5 tons, had been moved from its location along W. Va. 3 to the park site.

John Henry

Hilldale/Talcott Ruritan Club members are credited for spending five years raising money for its purchase in 1972.

Legend says he raced against a steam-powered drill to prove that manpower was greater than machine power.

By winning the battle he preserved railroad workers jobs.

Unfortunately he died in victory with his hammer in his hand.

John Henry plaque

The park’s location is fitting, because this “epic battle between man and machine” took place at the Great Bend Tunnel on the C&O Railroad near Talcott.

Some say he’s part of southern West Virginia folklore.

Historical research supports him as a real person, especially since so many African American workers were on the construction project, according to the National Parks Service

The depiction of him as a steel driver also rings true.

A steel driver was half of a two-man team (including a shaker)  responsible for hand drilling holes, up to 14 feet deep, into solid rock for the placement of explosives.

Just like the story, steel drivers swung a nine-pound hammer all day long.

It was this combined manual labor that led the way for “boring the mile-long tunnel through Great Bend Mountain, and onward along the pathway throughout the length of the New River Gorge.”

Big Bend Tunnel

Historians believe he died at the tunnel.

And he wasn’t alone.

It’s also estimated hundreds of other workers died there.

They lost their lives to rock falls, malfunctioning explosions and “tunnel sickness,” or what’s now known to be the excessive inhalation of dust,” according to the National Park Service.

John Henry

The park is located on 21 acres so it will have plenty of space for more development.

John Henry

Future plans call for the park to feature an amphitheater.

Organizers have already been honored for what’s already been accomplished.

In October, park steering committee members received the 2017 Heritage Tourism Award from the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia