Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel
About Stumphouse Tunnel
Before the modern Interstate System was built, 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 coast was to completely bypass the Appalachian Mountains. That meant traveling by rail through Georgia in order to reach Charleston. A faster more direct route was badly needed in order to support the fast growing region.
An Ambitious Plan To Tunnel Through Stumphouse Mountain
Merchants in Charleston, SC who relied on this flow of goods came up with a solution. Their ambitious plan was to build the Blue Ridge Railroad, a rail line that would cut through the mountains in north western South Carolina. They hoped, that with modern construction techniques, they could 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 finally began on the 1850’s. Construction progressed rapidly through most of the state until workers hit the mountains of Oconee County, South Carolina. Designers quickly realized that three tunnels would be needed to traverse this mountainous area. Of these tunnels, the one to be cut through Stumphouse Mountain was the most ambitious.
Had it been completed, Stumphouse Tunnel would have been a marvel of 19th Century construction. Not only would it have been the longest tunnel built in the US at the time at over 5500 feet long, but unlike the nearby Middle Tunnel, it had to be cut through solid granite.
Work began on the tunnel in 1856. In order to speed up construction, it was to be built simultaneously in sections, but planners weren’t satisfied with only working on the two ends of the tunnel at the same time. They wanted the railway built fast and were willing to cut corners and be creative in their thinking. Four shafts where dug from the top of the mountain, so that workers could be lowered down to begin work on the interior sections. This way they could synchronize work on no less than 10 faces of the tunnel.
Slow Hard Work Inside Stumphouse Tunnel
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. It also had a post office, church, school, stores, and a saloon. It typical boom town fashion, everything was built fast and cheaply, and not maintained. All that’s left today are some crumbling foundations and burial spots.
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. Faced with the slow progress and rising expenses, the South Carolina Legislature reevaluated the project. In 1859, after spending over million dollars, work on the Stumphouse Tunnel was abandoned. Only 1600 feet of the planned 5600 had been 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. 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. You can still buy Stumphouse Blue Cheese form Clemson University today.
Visiting Stumphouse Tunnel
Today Stumphouse Tunnel is part of a park owned by the city of Walhalla. You can visit most days during daylight hours. Admission if $5.00 per car – cash only by the honor system.
Can you Walk Through Stumphouse Tunnel?
Since the tunnel was never completed, there’s no exit to the other side of Stumphouse Mountain. But you can walk to almost the end of the completed sections. A brick wall built by Clemson University marks the end of the publicly accessible area of the tunnel.
When visiting the Tunnel be sure to bring flashlights. You can go back almost a quarter mile into it, and there are no lights overhead. By the time you get to the end, you’ll be in almost complete darkness. Even if it’s a nice hot day, the tunnel stays in the 50’s and is damp, so you might also want to bring a coat.
The park has restrooms and picnic tables. You’ll also find a number of hiking trails and bike trails. Issaqueena Falls is really close by, and you could either walk or drive to the falls.
Fast Facts about Stumphouse Tunnel
|Type:||Roadside Attraction – Abandoned Railway Tunnel|
|Admission:||$5 per vehicle|
|Location:||Stumphouse Tunnel Rd, Walhalla, SC 29691|
Things to do at Stumphouse Mountain Park: Explore the railway tunnel, picnic tables nearby, and walk to Issaqueena Falls.