Shadow of Legendary John Henry
By Mark Hotz
W.Va., which we visited last month, my friend
Nathan and I continued down State Route 63 into
Summers County. We were headed to Hinton, the
seat of Summers County, and a lovely little city
along West Virginia's scenic New River.
High above the New River just outside of Hinton,
along State Rt. 3, at Talcott, we crossed over
the Big Bend Tunnel of the old Chesapeake and
Ohio Railroad. This is where the legend of John
Henry was born. A statue of John Henry wielding
his hammer stands along side the road. The
statue commemorates the legendary "contest"
between a man and a steam-powered drill in
digging out the Big Bend Tunnel.
Railroad historian Roy C. Long found that there
were multiple Big Bend Tunnels along the C&O
Railway. Also, the C&O employed multiple black
men who went by the name "John Henry" at the
time that those tunnels were being built. Though
he could not find any documentary evidence, he
believes on the basis of anecdotal evidence that
the contest between man and machine did indeed
happen at the Talcott, W.Va., site because of
the presence of all three (a man named John
Henry, a tunnel named Big Bend, and a
steam-powered drill) at the same time at that
place. The town of Hinton sponsors a "John Henry
Days" festival annually.
The town of Hinton was a sleepy hamlet along the
river until 1871 when the C&O River Railroad Co.
blasted a path through the New River gorge and
made Hinton the division terminal. The town then
started to grow and was incorporated on Sept.
21, 1880. The town was named in honor of John
Hinton, on whose land the original town site was
laid out in 1831.
Summers County was created by an act of the
Virginia General Assembly on Feb. 27, 1871 from
parts of Fayette, Greenbrier, Mercer and Monroe
counties. It was named in honor of George W.
Summers (1804-1868), an attorney, politician and
jurist from the area who was an ardent opponent
of Virginia's secession from the Union.
Hinton was home to three note-issuing national
banks: the First National Bank of Hinton, the
National Bank of Summers of Hinton, and the
Citizens National Bank.
As a busy railroad center in active coal
country, most of Hinton's banks were fairly
large, and surprisingly, two survived the
Depression and end of the National Currency era
The First National Bank opened its doors in
1900, and put out a circulation of $2.2 million
over its 35 years of note-issuing life. It was
the only one of Hinton's banks to issue Brown
Back notes, and one is reported, though in very
low grade. It also issued a range of other 1882
and 1902 Series notes as well as small notes.
Currently, 11 large and 35 small are reported. I
have attached a photo of a quite attractive
large-size $20 note issued by this bank.
The National Bank of Summers of Hinton was
chartered at the end of 1905 and its total issue
was also $2.2 million. Its first issue was
Series of 1902 Red Seal notes, of which none are
known, and it also issued other 1902 types and
small-size notes. Notes from this bank, despite
the similar issue to the First National Bank,
are much harder to find, with just nine large
and 11 small reported. I have included photos of
a large-size $20 note and a small-size $10 note
issued by this bank.
Hinton's last bank was the Citizens National
Bank, which converted to national status in
1913. It had previously been one of Hinton's
larger banks, known just as the Citizens Bank.
As a national bank, it issued $717,000 worth of
notes before succumbing to poor management and
liquidating in 1931.
It was absorbed by the First National Bank,
which also assumed its circulation. It is quite
a rare bank, and despite four large and five
small notes currently reported, I have never
seen one and it has been some time since any
were available for sale.
Driving into Hinton along State Route 3 involves
a meandering descent from the heights above the
Big Bend Tunnel down to the scenic bridge across
the New River into town. As we made our way
toward the business district, we passed the
attractive Summers County Courthouse, built in
1875 of local red brick with imposing
medieval-style towers at either side.
We soon found ourselves in the still bustling
business district, with many well-preserved
period buildings along several blocks. The First
National Bank of Hinton originally occupied the
ground floor of a five-story structure on Third
Avenue, but when that space became too cramped,
it erected a more modern building in 1941,
diagonally across the street. I have included a
set-up photo showing the new building taken from
the old one, and showing the stained glass clock
that still stands in front of the original
We drove on further down the street and I found
a parking spot directly in front of the old
National Bank of Summers building at the corner
of Temple Street and 2nd Avenue. The original
bank building was demolished when the newer bank
structure was completed in the 1920s. It is very
imposing with a faux columned façade. Today it
serves the community as the Hinton Public
A little farther down 2nd Avenue we came across
the pretty much abandoned large corner block,
with the word "BANK" at the top cornice, that
housed the old Citizens Bank of Hinton, later
Citizens National Bank, and Elks Club. The
building still bears the same appearance as it
did in 1906, but as is evident from the photo,
is underused and partly boarded up. I have
included a period photo postcard, circa 1910,
showing this block, which included the bank and
the local Elks Club. Compare this view with the
modern view of the same building today, little
changed but considerably neglected.
After taking some photographs, we meandered our
way out of town on State Route 20 and headed
south toward what turned out to be perhaps the
most ghostly town I have visited almost
anywhere, Matoaka, W.Va. But you'll have to wait
until next month for that&but I guarantee it
will be worth the wait.