The Tunnel to Nowhere

The mouth of the Stumphouse Mountain tunnel – enter if you dare!

A drive to Walhalla runs about 143 miles and not quite three hours. Follow S.C. Highway 28 out of Walhalla into the Appalachian Mountains and you’ll discover a tunnel where men performed backbreaking labor pursuing a railroad dream. You’ll also see a beautiful waterfall.

I made the drive north out of Walhalla early one fall day. I visited Issaqueena Falls and its three stair-stepping cascades in the early morning. The air was cool and crisp. Approaching the falls I saw water flowing over an edge — a bit of a disappointment, but then I walked down the trail to its right and there a treat greeted me. Falling dramatically, early light glittering on a filigree of aquamarine water, I beheld Issaqueena Falls.

A short walk uphill took me to Stumphouse Mountain, where a 1,600-foot tunnel fell short of creating a railway passage from Charleston to Cincinnati. Check out Stumphouse Tunnel, the Upcountry’s black hole. Enter its hand-chipped, reverberating, dripping shaft that’s 1,617-feet long. It’s so dark in there man can’t even pipe in daylight. No bats though . . . or are there? Enter if you dare.

Irishmen chipped and drilled through though solid granite, hoping to link Charleston to the Midwest. Hard to imagine what difficulties they encountered. Stumphouse Mountain tunnel reminds us of their failed 1850’s attempt to link the port of Charleston to the cities of the Midwest by rail. After six years, the Civil War and a lack of money brought the backbreaking work to a halt. The tunnel had been excavated to a length of 1,617 feet of the planned 5,863 total feet. Some 100 years later, Clemson University used the tunnel to age blue cheese but relocated the operation to air-conditioned cheese ripening rooms where they were able to duplicate the conditions indoors, chiefly the 85 percent humidity and constant 56 degrees Fahrenheit. The tunnel measures 17-feet wide by 25-feet high. About midway in a 16 x 20-foot airshaft shoots 60 feet up to the surface. As a result, a steady breeze flows out of the tunnel. It also leads to condensation and the tunnel is generally wet.

As for Issaqueena Falls and its beautiful 200-feet cascade, legend holds that the Indian maiden, Issaqueena, rode to a nearby fort to warn of a pending Indian attack and then escaped pursuing Indians by pretending to leap over the falls, while actually hiding beneath them.

The City of Walhalla operates a park at Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls, which has picnic facilities and trails. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Christmas Day and inclement weather. Admission is free but there is a fee to reserve the large picnic shelter. The park does not have camping facilities or drinking water. Outhouse restrooms and picnic sites exist.

Camping is available at nearby Oconee State Park and other beautiful falls such as Whitewater Falls are nearby. A hiking trail is also nearby. Make the trip and see the black tunnel and glittering waterfall, studies in contrast that make the park so compelling.


If You Go …

 • Stumphouse Mountain and Issaqueena Falls

• 864-638-4343

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected].

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