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Stumphouse Tunnel — Mountain Rest, South Carolina

SC Picture Project  |  Oconee County  |  Stumphouse Tunnel

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Stumphouse Tunnel

Stumphouse Tunnel, located near the Oconee County community of Walhalla, was designed in the early 1830s with the goal of connecting rail lines in Charleston to Knoxville, Tennessee, and eventually Cincinnati, Ohio. South Carolina governor Robert Hayne wanted an alternate route for the Blue Ridge Railroad because, at that time, the route bypassed the mountains of South Carolina, extending instead to northern Georgia and on to Tennessee.

Stumphouse Tunnel

Mary Hughes Calloway of Lexington, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

It took two decades for the tunnel to begin to take shape, being built primarily by Irish immigrants in the 1850s. From 1853 to 1859, a temporary town formed around the largest section for workers and their families. Known as Tunnel Hill, it was home to roughly 1,500 inhabitants. Tunnel Hill consisted of a schoolhouse, a Catholic church, a post office, and several saloons.

Stumphouse Tunnel Gate

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The town is said to have been a violent one, and mining-related deaths were common. Life there is described in detail by Jim Houghey in The Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association, 2004. He notes, for example, that “living conditions were, at best, primitive. Contemporary observers mentioned the constant noise of drilling and blasting around the clock. Air quality was impaired by the plumes of smoke and dust circulated by the wood-burning steam engines, the blacksmith forges and the powder mill.”

Stumphouse Tunnel in South Carolina

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Houghey goes on to explain that “practically all the dwellings were flimsy wooden frame structures that provided little shelter from the elements. While miners with families lived in primitive cabins, unmarried miners often lodged in boarding shanties provided by other railroad workers and their families.”

Stumphouse Tunnel in Walhalla SC

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

In a letter to Bishop Lynch, the Rev. J. J. O’Connell, a priest sent to minister to the miners, described the austerity of the community: “I have just returned from the up-country mission where I have had a pretty rugged time. The cold was excessive and I suffer from chills all the time.”

Stumphouse Tunnel

Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

By 1859, over one million dollars had been spent on the construction of the tunnel and South Carolina’s legislature refused to fund the project any further. Of the proposed 5,863 total feet only 1,617 were excavated. The Civil War and the collapse of the state’s economy ensured the tunnel would not be completed. Plans to revitalize the project in 1875, 1900, and 1940 failed. A 365-foot portion of the tunnel, known as the Middle Tunnel, was completed but has partially collapsed and was sealed off in the mid-1900s. It can still be accessed but is notorious for flooding.

Stumphouse Tunnel Gates

Dawn Piper of Greer, 2019 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Clemson University bought the tunnel in 1951 and used it to cure their famous Clemson blue cheese for many years. Later the cheesemaking lab was moved to the Clemson campus, with the conditions of the Stumphouse Tunnel replicated to allow the cheese to retain its its distinguished flavor.

Stumphouse Tunnel Interior View

Charles Pittman of Duncan, 2019 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

A developer attempted to purchase the property in 2007 but Naturaland Trust, a conservation agency created by C. Thomas Wyche, who was largely responsible for the revitalization of downtown Greenville, pledged nearly $2 million to protect the property. The 40-acre site consists of the tunnels, camping areas, picnic shelters, and a museum of railroad history. It is frequented by daytrippers from across South Carolina and the surrounding areas. If you are able to visit the tunnel, make sure to also see the legendary Issaqueena Falls.

The Stumphouse Tunnel is listed on the National Register:

The Stumphouse Tunnel Complex is comprised of forty acres of land, two acres of water, and includes Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel, Middle Tunnel, and the 385-foot original railroad bed connecting them, picnic and camping areas, and a museum of railroad history in an old caboose. Stumphouse Mountain and Middle Tunnels were part of the Blue Ridge Railroad project, which was planned as the final link in a shipping route from the Mississippi to the Atlantic seaboard. The 1850s project involved the construction of tunnels, cuts, and embankments in four states, and was first proposed in the 1830s by South Carolina Governor Robert Hayne, who hoped it would help to harmonize conflicting sectional interests in the nation. It would have provided railroad lines to the midwest for Charleston, SC, Wilmington, NC, and Savannah, GA. Had it been completed, the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel would have been the longest tunnel in the United States. Cut through solid blue granite, it was the largest of three tunnels which would have pierce Rabun Gap and comprised a final section of the line from Charleston to northeastern Georgia. Only one of these tunnels, the 365-foot Middle Tunnel, was finished. The Civil War and subsequent collapse of the state’s economy sealed the tunnel’s doom. Despite attempts in 1875, 1900, and 1940 to revive its construction, the tunnel was never completed. Stumphouse Tunnel was the 1950s site of the first successful attempt to age blue cheese in the South by Clemson University.

tumphouse Tunnel Interior

F. Everett Leigh of Union, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Stumphouse Tunnel Info

Address: Stumphouse Tunnel Road, Mountain Rest, SC 29664
GPS Coordinates: 34.809486,-83.122962

Stumphouse Tunnel Map

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8 Comments about Stumphouse Tunnel

Barbara Thomas says:
January 24th, 2019 at 8:17 pm

I visited this tunnel with my grandson in 2015. My 5th great-grandfather was one of the Irish immigrants who was an overseer at the tunnel, William Nix. When the tunnel ceased being built, he moved his family to Randolph Co, Alabama. It was an amazing visit.

Thomas King says:
November 16th, 2016 at 7:54 am

I would like to use a few of the photos of Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel on my waterfall blog. Will you assist me in getting in touch with Larry Gleason of Aiken, SC and F. Everett Leigh of Union, SC? If possible, I would like to have some high resolution photos emailed to me. I request permission to use these photographs on my blog and will give full credit to the photographers. I have many very nice photos of waterfalls, etc. of Upstate SC and will be glad to contribute to sciway.net and the SC Picture Project. Please send me further information and if you have further questions, please email me. Thank you. Tom King

Gin Atkins says:
July 10th, 2016 at 9:42 pm


matilyn says:
November 15th, 2015 at 9:16 pm

A great place. My grandbaby is age 5 and loves it.

Ann Maloney Land says:
August 7th, 2015 at 11:15 pm

YES I am a LAND. And everyone I meet are super nice..I will return in September..I love the people.and they are ALL great people………..Will see you later………………..

Yvonne Alvarado says:
July 26th, 2015 at 4:41 pm

This looks like a great place to take the children and explore!

Mike Herko says:
December 11th, 2013 at 11:56 am

I went to Clemson in 1964 and 1965 and a trip to the cave was a regular with some of us after a steak supper in Walhalla. We would camp out there even in the freezing cold. When I returned on 1977 until 1979 I found a cabin to rent on Peaceful Valley Road near the old railroad bed. I could hear the falls every night. Wish it was still like that.

Charlie Sutherland says:
September 6th, 2011 at 1:14 pm

When I was at Clemson in the mid ’60s, I discovered the tunnel. I would take friends for a ride in my noisy little Alfa Romeo and back the thing way back into the tunnel. It was scary and the noise sounded like the tunnel would cave in. Lots of fun!


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