The Story of the Crosses Across America

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PHOTO courtesy of Crosses Across America

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By: Jeremy T.K. Farley

From as early as I can remember, three large crosses have stood on the north side of Interstate 81, alone in a cow pasture, just a few minutes east of Fort Chiswell, Virginia.

As a child, I always appreciated seeing these magnificent and larger than life crosses, though at the time, I cannot say that I fully understood the meaning of that most Holy symbol, nor did I realize the sheer effort required to plant those consecrated reminders across the nation.

The story of America’s roadside crosses, the ones that have the two white crosses on the outside with a single yellow cross in the middle, begins humbly enough on January 27, 1925, in Craigsville, West Virginia.

On this date, a young child named Bernard Coffindaffer was born.

Raised by his father and stepmother, the young West Virginian would join the military at the age of sixteen.

Serving in the United States Marine Corps during the turbulent years of World War II, Coffindaffer provided for the defense of his nation for a period of six years; seeing active duty in the Pacific Theater, fighting at the bloody battle for the island of Iwo Jima, as well as serving in the occupation force at Nagasaki, Japan, following the end of hostilities.

Following his military service, the Marine returned to the Mountain State and worked in the years that followed, eventually earning a degree an associate degree from what was then Morris Harvey College (now University of Charleston.

Now a college graduate, the young entrepreneur found work in the oil industry, serving as a salesperson for a Charleston-based company.

In the years that followed, Coffindaffer would create a side business that specialized in washing coal. This proved to be lucrative and garnered the West Virginia native what some have described as a “small fortune.”

Married, with four children, the Craigsville native’s life would take an abrupt turn at the age of forty-two, when the World War II veteran knelt and softly asked Jesus to become his personal Saviour. Though he had heard the story of the cross thousands of times throughout his life, this time something seemed different. Something seemed real about the cross and the wealthy industrialist soon developed a true passion for the cross of Calvary.

In the days ahead, Coffindaffer’s concerns would wane from increasing profits to reaching souls with the message of the cross.

Soon, the Appalachian resident had professed to friends and family that he had been called to serve as a preacher to forgotten Appalachian churches – ministering at seven different small churches in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.

After two heart by-pass operations, Coffindaffer liquidated his business and two years later had what he called a “genuine, marvelous, glorious vision,” stating, “The Holy Spirit instructed, blessed, and dealt with me and told me how to go about installing these crosses. It was an experience you have once in a lifetime.”

The following decades were spent gathering manpower, materials and resources to plant crosses alongside major highways all across America.

The first clusters of crosses were planted in September 1984 and in the years ahead more than 2,000 crosses were installed in the United States, Zambia and the Philippines.

According to family members, the crosses were “wooden, fashioned from telephone poles” and originally blue and gold.

In his final decade of life, Coffindaffer exhausted his earned wealth, spending more than $3-million on the project.

In a 1991 interview, the minister announced, “The crosses are to remind people to remember that Jesus was crucified on a cross at Calvary for our sins, and He will soon return.”

Sadly, the project came to an abrupt end on October 8, 1993, as the 68-year-old suffered a heart attack at this home in Craigsville.

More than 21 years have passed since Coffindaffer has laid eyes on any of his crosses, which at the time of his death had been planted in 29 states.

Today, the vast majority of the Christian symbols he scattered across the nation are broken down and in disrepair.

One woman, Sara Stevenson Abraham, has stepped in to continue the West Virginian’s work. She has formed a non-profit organization entitled Crosses Across America, Inc., headquartered in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The group is dedicated to locating the standing clusters of crosses and “getting them straightened, repaired, and restored.” Abraham presents the story of the crosses for churches, civic organizations, television, and radio programs.

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56 COMMENTS

  1. I always wondered why I would see so many three crosses together coming down interstate 77 coming into WV from Ohio. These crosses will be forever in my memory.

  2. I remember doing this with him and his crew with Dwayne Peyatt and family I put some of these up with them just figured id put it on here and think you for put this In your magazine

  3. Growing up in WV it was always a PROUD moment when traveling to other states and sightings of 3 crosses painted blue and yellow were seen…..Mr. Coffindaffer was an awesome man! RIP!

  4. I met his son briefly in Charleston, WV many years ago while working in the Laidley Tower building. He was a very nice man and shared his father’s story with me. So sorry to hear of his father’s passing. I love to see the crosses when I travel.

    God bless those who are restoring them.

  5. Back in the 90’s we would travel with our granddaughter and we would watch for the crosses, to see who seen them first going to northern Va. We are originally from Wv but now live in Va. I always thought I would like to see a set of them on my parents land.

  6. I actually grew up in Craigsville, WV. That is something I will never forget. Every time I hear Three Wooden Crosses by Randy Travis, it reminds me of my childhood and so many good memories

  7. My mother had the crosses erected on her property after seeing them in Virginia and after very major brain surgery in Virginia. We are in south west Arkansas.

  8. BERNARD WAS A RICH MAN & WHILE I SIT HERE & THINK OF HIS LIFE & HOW HE HAS AFFECTED ME IT BRINGS TEARS TO MY EYES. HE WAS RICH IN THE LORD. HIS LAND WAS BESIDE MY DADS LAND. AS A CHILD I WOULD GO TO HIS HOUSE & PLAY WITH HIS LITTLE GIRL. PLAYING IN HER CLUB HOUSE. & SLIDING DOWN THAT BIG OLE SLIDE. THE LONGEST ONE I HAVE EVER SEEN. HE BUILT A PAVILION AND ALLOWED CHURCHES TO COME & HAVE A PICNIC OR COOKOUT AT THE BOTTOM OF HIS FRONT YARD & ALLOWED ALL THE KIDS TO SLIDE DOWN THE SLIDE. MY BROTHER Joseph & COUSIN DUANE WENT ALL OVER PUTTING UP THESE CROSSES. THEY ARE AT MY OLD CHURCH IN BELLWOOD AND IN GORDONSVILLE TN. WHAT A GREAT LEGACY HE LEFT BEHIND & I AM PROUD TO SAY I KNEW HIM.

  9. My cousin Dwayne Peyatt help Bernard set up these crosses. He lived right behind my sisters house on Powers Run Rd. Bernard was a good man.

  10. So very happy someone cares brought to continue on with the Crosses Across America. It is definitely is a reminder that Jesus died on that cross for our sins. We all need that reminder!

  11. I love that I can look out of my kitchen window and not only see a historic part of West Virginia (I can see where the New River and Gauley River meet to form the Kanawha Ricer in Gauley Bridge) but right smack in the middle of where the rivers meet there is a rock with the crosses .. It is absolutely breath taking .. I would love to see the crosses restored and brighter ! I love it !

  12. I attended one of his 7 churches in Pocahontas County, WV as a teenager. I can still see a set of the first crosses from my house.
    ~ Praise GOD

  13. I’ve seen the crosses on 81 and 77! I’ve lived in both Va and WV! I never knew who put them there, but I sure am glad that they are there! I love the crosses!!!

  14. I still have the widows mite he gave me ..I live n widen wv n wood love 2 help do what I could n keeping the crosses ..we have them @ dille wv which is around 3 miles from my hm..I think of bro .coffindaffer often as I pass by these crosses go n 2 church n other places …RIP

  15. My papaw and granny had them (and they are still there long after they passed away) in their meadow on top of a mountain…..several sunrise services has been held by these crosses to glorify Jesus and give thanks for the sacrifice that God gave so we might have a chance for life after life…..

  16. i will never forget that day on August 4, 1986 when they erected the 3 crosses on our newly purchased property in War WV located across from Big Creek High School on which we would later build our church, Word Assembly of God. We had a scheduled revival to begin on August 6 th on the property in a tent that we had set up and their workers returned and installed lighting to light up the crosses at dusk and set to go off at dawn. It was as though God put His Approval on the vision that He himself had placed in my husband’s heart and spirit to plant Word Assembly of God on that piece of property as a sign of God’s light shining for all to see….. That light is Jesus Christ….the Savior of the world!!

  17. I believe I remember my dad telling me about going up the back side of the mountain on his bulldozer to erect the three crosses that are on US 19 – I believe it is called the Devil’s Table. The big square rock cliff that you see travelling north on 19 from Summersville. So glad someone is carrying on this project!

  18. I PUT THE FIRST SET OF CROSSES UP IN FLATWOODS, WV. THE POLES WERE HAULD IN ON TRAIN CARS FROM COLORADO THEY WERE DOUGLAS FIR. BURNS TRUCKING LET US USE TRAILERS TO DISTRIBUTE THE POLES ACROSS WV. THE COLORS THEY USED WERE EGGSHELL BLUE AND AUTUMN GOLD AND IT CAME FROM SHERWIN WILLIAMS. IF YOU WOULD LIKE ANY OTHER INFORMATION CONTACT ME AT (304) 524-1200 OR BY EMAIL AT KRJHUNTER@GMAIL.COM. I HAVE A LOT MORE INFORMATION THAT I WOULD LIKE TO GIVE TO SARA STEVENSON ABRAHAM IF YOU SEE THIS PLEASE CONTACT ME.

  19. In the mid 80’s I was taking a break from shopping at the Charleston Town Center Mall on the second floor. As I was sitting there Mr. Coffendaffer introduced himself to me. He was a very nice and interesting man. He talked of his grandson (Wade Coffendaffer) that I knew and lived in the same town as I. He introduced himself as the man that puts up all the crosses. It was very nice to meet the person that put up all those crosses.

  20. Every time I see the crosses, I think about what Jesus gave for me. If only the whole world could see. Thank God for this man who put these crosses up. They have been a blessing for a lot of people. I also live in WV. and see them just about every where I go. God bless those who are keeping this alive.

  21. Love this I always seen them crosses in my many trips to Wv have been traveling back an forth for several years since moving to Flordia 40 some years ago always wondered about tem thanks so much for the article

  22. Our quartet, THE KING’S KID’S, have traveled all over the eastern US singing & preaching the gospel. We wrote to Mr. Coffindaffer & told him how the crosses blessed us so much in our travels & told him we soon would be ministering at the Craigsville Church of the Nazarene & invited him to come. He did just that & it was a joy to meet him & hear how the crosses came about. We were blessed. I still have my widow’s mite, too!! The world is a better place because of the ministry of Bernard Coffindaffer. THE KING’S KIDS SOUTHERN GOSPEL QUARTET.

  23. So proud to be a Coffindaffer. Love hearing these stories and the fact that he touched so many others on his journey is truly amazing! Thanks to everyone who keeps the legacy alive!

  24. What a great story filled with information I have wondered about for years. I am originally from WV, and now live in OH. I have seen several sets of these crosses over the years in many different places. The most memorable for me being the ones described above in Gauley Bridge. They always remind me of the story of Christs merciful forgiveness to the sinner being crucified along beside him. It reminds us that all we need do is sincerely ask for his forgiveness and accept him as our personal Savior, and we also ” May dwell with him in paradise”, God Bless.

  25. Cork Griffith, was the Head Coach at Salem many years ago. He had taken a university bus to Charleston, to pick up some black recruits for a tour of the school. He said it wasn’t long before the recruits began to indicate their concerns as too what all the crosses meant. He had not given any thought, as to what they may think about them. LOL

  26. Everytime I come southbound on 81, I see these crosses and cross myself. What a joy to see, very uplifting ! Wish there were more of these 3 crosses around… I live in Md. ♡

  27. Thanks for sharing I rember watching my dad (Gene Hager) build and paint some in our garage when I was little.

  28. Growing up in Wv I have Loved seeing these crosses as we would go diffrent places. My Mom told me what she knew of the story of how they came about. If I was able to get good pictures I would get ones of them as I’d see them. There is a set on Interstate 64 just before the Sam Black Exit heading West, on a knoll on a farm. I just told my husband that I want to stop once its warmer one evening as the suns setting and get a picture of them. I love them. They mean so much to me, I have a tatoo of them on my arm, I got in 2000, its not the greatest but Means alot to me. If ever this way and I could help, I would love to help if possible. Thank you for the story/history <3

  29. I’m originally from Greenbrier County n travel Interstate 77 quite often to go down home n have often wondered who put those crosses up. The Lord led me to this article. Wow! What a legacy!

  30. It has always meant a lot to me as we’ve travelled back and forth so, so many times from Delaware to WV and see the crosses. I just recently learned that they are in other states too. Always look forward to seeing them.

  31. I am an army brat. Based throughout the U.S. And my parents being from WV I grew up seeing these crosses. One day, around 20 years old, a friend told me of a mystery man who put up these crosses. A few days later I was visiting my grandfather in Summerville, WV and looked up, at a set of crosses. I asked if he knew anything about them. He told me of Mr. Coffindaffer and that he was living in his home town of Craigsville. I have shared that story with every person I have traveled with. We play “punch buggy” with the crosses, yelling Coffindaffer instead. It’s a great childhood memory and reminder to me of faith on the highway. Thanks Mr Coffindaffer and Ms Abraham and Crosses Across America!!

  32. Back in 1995 I took care of a lady in the nursing home that said it was her son in-law that put them up. What a greT thing that they are fixing them!!

  33. These Crosses Have Impressed Me Also. I had heard the story before. I would like to join the group but don’t know how to get a hold of them. If anyone knows please let me know.

  34. I was always thrilled to see the crosses. I was told that Mr. Coffindaffer’s wife attended the church my dad pastored on Big Scary Creek in Scott Depot, WV. when she was a young girl. My parents (Ralph and Clara McCormick) attended the Church of God camp meeting in Craigsville for several years. It always made me feel good to tell people I knew Mr. Coffindaffer’s wife.

  35. My family’s farm where I grew up has these crosses in La Plata, MD. This gentleman met with my great grandmother and she always recalled the story to me when I was little. A few years ago ours started to fall into disrepair and a local church helped our family get the crosses repainted and straightened back up.

  36. I’d love to have a set of these put in my front yard, I live up on a hill over looking the local hospital and it would be great to have everyone that looked out their window to be able to see them and the passing traffic could see also

  37. My husband was born and raised in Craigsville, WV. His 1st. cousin, Sharon used to work for Mr. Coffindaffer. He moved to Ohio with his family and that’s where I met him. Later on we would go back to WV and I would see the crosses. He told me the story about them. My hubby passed in December, but when I go back to WV to take the kids to see relatives, I always think about him telling me about the crosses. We would see them on 77 and on 19.

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