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Henry Harrison Mayes: Appalachia’s Roadside Evangelist

A coal miner from Middlesboro, KY, Henry Harrison Mayes (1898-1986) spent decades driving around the country erecting giant roadside crosses. His inspiration came after surviving a mining accident in the 1920s – he decided his recovery was a miracle and aimed to spend the rest of his life spreading the word of God.

 

Mayes fashioned crosses and hearts by using homemade wooden molds and hand mixing and pouring concrete crosses in his backyard. He would set out for well-traveled areas and, often without permission, would dig a hole near the highway and set his massive cross in place.

 

Ultimately, Mayes placed wooden and concrete crosses throughout 44 different states. Many of his original crosses no longer exist because of highway expansion programs, traffic accidents, and natural erosion. However, in the greater Chattanooga area of Southeast Tennessee, you can see two of his crosses in the following locations:

 

Benton, TN (Polk County) along Hwy. 411

 

Mayes cross along Hwy. 411 near Benton, TN

 

Decatur, TN (Meigs County):

This cross is located along the banks of Big Sewee Creek on TN-58 about four miles north of Decatur.

 

Henry Harrison Mayes Cross north of Decatur, TN

 

Mayes was known in his hometown of Middlesboro, KY, as the Sign Man or the Cross Builder. He lived in a cross-shaped house with the Ten Commandments displayed on his front gate and “Jesus Saves” painted in huge letters across the roof. He kept its lawn filled with cross-shaped signs and created a massive cross of electric lights.

 

Learn more about Mayes and his dedication to erecting crosses across the country at the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, TN. The museum’s exhibit includes a large collection of signs that remained when Mayes died in 1989.

 

Henry Harrison Mayes with his wife, Lillie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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