The Abandoned Tunnel in South Carolina that Could Have Been the Longest Tunnel in the USA

Diana Rus

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Stumphouse Mountain TunnelPhoto byStumphouse Mountain Tunnel/ Wikipedia

Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel in Oconee County, South Carolina is an unfinished railroad tunnel in Sumter National Forest for the Blue Ridge Railroad of South Carolina.

The tunnel and the nearby Issaqueena Falls have been turned into a city park by Walhalla city.

In 1835, residents of Charleston, South Carolina proposed the tunnel as a new and faster route for the Blue Ridge Railroad between Charleston and the Ohio River valley area, which was previously only accessible by avoiding the mountains totally to the south and then continuing up north through Georgia and central Tennessee.

In 1852, a 13-mile tunnel under the Blue Ridge Mountains through South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee was proposed. The railway was successfully built through the majority of South Carolina until it reached the mountains near Wallhalla in Oconee County in the late 1850s. Their Stumphouse tunnel, as well as three other tunnels, were planned to be constructed.

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Sign at the entrance of the tunnelPhoto byStumphouse Mountain Tunnel/ Wikipedia

Construction of Stumphouse tunnel

The construction of the Stumphouse tunnel started in 1856.

The George Collyer Company of London recruited numerous Irish workers to the region for this project. On the top of Stumphouse mountain, in a neighborhood known as Tunnel Hill, many of the workers resided.

The tunnel project was abandoned in 1859 after the State of South Carolina spent over a million dollars on it and refused to spend any more. The tunnel had been excavated to a length of 1,617 feet, with a total length of 5,863 feet planned.

Today, where the tunnel was supposed to end on the other side of the mountain, there is a mound of earth, intended for railway tracks, submerged under Crystal Lake during the summer months, just west of Highway 28.

According to the National Register Properties in South Carolina, the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel would have been the longest tunnel in the United States, if it was completed.

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Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel' signPhoto byStumphouse Mountain Tunnel/ Wikipedia

Two further tunnels that were to be a part of the Blue Ridge Railroad were started in the 1850s and are all connected by terrain at railroad grade. A quarter mile from Stumphouse Tunnel, Middle Tunnel was successfully finished but eventually mostly collapsed and was partially shut off.

A short distance north of Middle Tunnel, 1.5 miles away, work also began on Saddle Tunnel, the last tunnel in the South Carolina complex. Saddle is mostly drowned by a small lake despite being only partially finished. There is only the tunnel's entrance that is visible.

In the 1950s, Clemson University used the Stumphouse tunnel to grow blue cheese until the 1970s, when the blue cheese process was shifted to air-conditioned cheese ripening rooms that replicated the tunnel environment.

Stumphouse tunnel today

The city of Walhalla now manages Stumphouse Tunnel and adjoining Isaqueena Falls as public parks. A steady 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 85% humidity prevail inside the tunnel. A gravel parking area is only a few yards away from the tunnel, which is readily reached on foot. Except for an enlarged vent about halfway along the tunnel, the tunnel's structural integrity is excellent and virtually no cracking is visible.

In 1999, a rock slide damaged this vent, but the town of Walhalla could safely re-excavate the tunnel and reopen it to the public in 2000.

After a developer attempted to buy the property from the City of Walhalla in 2007, Natural and Trust, a conservation organization founded by C. Thomas Wyche, pledged approximately $2 million to protect the surrounding property; and a consortium of non-profit conservation organizations, private individuals, and the state of South Carolina provided the money and resources to preserve the mountain for public use.

Sources:

Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel/ Wikipedia

National Register Properties in South Carolina

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