Inside the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel - tunnel, carved through rock and illuminated by warm lighting, creates a captivating scene with its golden hues and textured walls. The image draws the viewer’s eye towards the center, where the tunnel curves slightly before reaching an opening in the distance. The natural striations and irregularities in the rock are highlighted by the interplay of light and shadow,
Looking down the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel

Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel

Visiting Stumphouse Tunnel Park

Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel, an unfinished railway tunnel carved into the granite walls of Stumphouse Mountain is the centerpiece of a park owned and maintained by the city of Walhalla, South Carolina. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Over the course of it’s life, Stumphouse Tunnel has gone from being an almost forgotten relic of a failed infrastructure project to the epicenter of Blue Cheese production in the US, and finally a popular tourist attraction in Oconee County. Stumphouse Park is open most days during daylight hours. Admission is $5.00 per car – cash only on the honor system and includes access to nearby Issaqueena Falls as well.

Walking Through Stumphouse Tunnel

Since only 1600 feet of the planned 5600 feet of the tunnel were competed, there’s no exit to the other side of Stumphouse Mountain. So you can’t walk all the way through the tunnel, but you can walk most of the completed section.

The publicly accessible part of Stumphouse Tunnel ends with a brick wall and iron gate built by Clemson University when they used the tunnel to make Blue Cheese. Beyond this point it becomes dangerous due to debris from overhead ventilation shafts.

When visiting the Tunnel be sure to bring flashlights. You can walk back almost a quarter mile into it, and by the time you reach the end, you’ll be in almost complete darkness as there are no lights overhead.

Remember that even if it’s a nice hot day, the tunnel maintains a constant temperature in the 50’s and is always damp, so you might also want to bring a coat. These cool damp conditions may have made Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel ideal for aging cheese, but you’ll probably not want to spend a lot of time in the darkness.

The park has restrooms and picnic tables. You’ll also find a number of hiking trails and bike trails. Issaqueena Falls is nearby, and you could either walk or drive to the falls.

How Stumphouse Tunnel Came to be

Before the modern Interstate System, travel from the Midwest to the Atlantic seaboard was a long and demanding affair. In the early 19th Century, the only practical way to get goods from the Ohio River Valley to ports along the East Coast was to completely bypass the Appalachian Mountain Range, traveling by rail down through Georgia to finally reach the Port of Charleston. A faster more direct route was badly needed to support the fast growing region.

An Ambitious Plan to Tunnel Through a Mountain

The merchants in Charleston who relied on this flow of goods came up with a solution. Their ambitious plan was to cut a rail line through the mountains of north west South Carolina. They thought that construction techniques had advanced enough to make this possible. The Blue Ridge Railroad as it was to be called would provide a direct route from the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to ports in Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah.

After several delays, work on the rail line began in the 1850’s. Construction progressed rapidly through most of the state until workers hit the mountains of Oconee County. Builders soon realized they would need to build no less than three tunnels to traverse this mountainous region. Of these tunnels, the one through Stumphouse Mountain was the longest and most difficult to dig.

Had it been completed, Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel would have been a marvel of 19th Century construction. At 5500 feet long, it would not have not only been the longest tunnel built in the US at that time but unlike the nearby Middle Tunnel, it would have been cut through solid granite.

Work began on the tunnel in 1856, and in order to speed up construction, it was decided to build the tunnel simultaneously in sections. That isn’t too unusual. Tunnels were normally built simultaneously on both end with workers finally meeting in the middle. But planners were unsatisfied with only working on the two ends of Stimphouse Tunnel at the same time. They wanted the railway built fast and were willing to cut corners and be creative in their thinking.

Slow Hard Work Deep Under The Mountain

Four shafts where dug from the top of the mountain, so that workers could be lowered down to begin work on the interior sections as other workers dug from the two ends of the tunnel. This way they could work on no less than 10 faces of the tunnel at the same time. Eventually connecting all the sections together.

The workers lives inside the tunnel were hard, exhausting, and dangerous. Without the aid of today’s excavation equipment, interior cuts had to made with hand tools through the solid granite walls of the mountain. With little light and only a small opening in the roof for ventilation, it made for hard miserable work.

While not toiling under the mountain, the mostly Irish workers lived in a hastily built community called Tunnel Hill. Located above the second shaft, this town of 1200 not only had bunkhouse living quarters but smaller single family homes for married workers. The town also had a post office, church, school, stores, and a saloon. In typical boom town fashion, everything was built fast, cheap, and not maintained. All that’s left today are some crumbling foundations and burial spots.

Faced with the slow progress and rising expenses, the South Carolina Legislature was forced to reevaluate the project in 1859. After spending over million dollars and not having a completed tunnel to show for it, the project was abandoned with only 1600 feet of the planned 5600 completed.

A New Beginning For Stumphouse Tunnel

For almost 100 years the tunnel lay abandoned known only to some local explorers, adventurers, and ne’er-do-wells. Then in 1950 it was bought by Clemson University, and a new era began for this ill conceived gateway to the Midwest.

Researchers discovered that the tunnel’s continuous temperature of 50 degrees and high humidity provided the perfect conditions for curing Blue Cheese, so in 1953 students from Clemson became the first people to successfully age Blue Cheese in the South.

For many years, Stumphouse Tunnel remained the site of Clemson’s blue cheese production, until the entire process was moved to a climate controlled facility on campus where conditions identical to those in the tunnel could be maintained.

Stumphouse Tunnel was then acquired by the town of Walhalla and became the centerpiece of this popular park.

Fast Facts about Stumphouse Tunnel

Type:Roadside Attraction – Abandoned Railway Tunnel
Admission:$5 per vehicle
Location:Stumphouse Tunnel Rd, Walhalla, SC 29691
Phone(864) 638-4343
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Things to do at Stumphouse Mountain Park: Explore the railway tunnel, picnic tables nearby, and walk to Issaqueena Falls.

Map to Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel Park