Tunnel to Nowhere
The Blue Ridge Mountains never cease to amaze our family. In the spring, the wildflowers bring an array of color to the hills and in the fall, the leaves dot the hillsides in orange, yellows, and reds. The views from the tops of the cliffs are breathtaking.
The Blue Ridge is also steeped in history, which intrigues the adults and allows history lessons to be taught to kids on the weekends. Sometimes, the most interesting places are off the beaten path. One such find is the Stumphouse Tunnel located on highway 28 outside of Walhalla, SC.
The Stumphouse Tunnel was started in late 1853, and mainly constructed by Irish immigrants. These approximately 1,500 individuals lived around the tunnel, which came to be known as Tunnel Hill. Tunnel Hill had a schoolhouse, church, post office, and several saloons.
South Carolina spent over 1 million dollars on the construction of the tunnel to connect Charleston, SC to Knoxville, and eventually to Cincinnati. However, due to lack of funds and the beginning of the Civil War, construction came to a halt. There were plans to finish the construction in 1875, 1900, and 1940 but all failed. Of the 5,863 feet of proposed tunnel, only 1,617 feet were finished.
Today, the tunnel is 17 feet wide by 25 feet high, and visitors can walk approximately a quarter mile into the darkness. The tunnel maintains a temperature of 50 degrees year round and 85% humidity. In 1951, Clemson University found this atmosphere desirable and started storing their blue cheese in the interior of the tunnel. In the 1970’s the university moved the storage back to Clemson, but the air-conditioned storage rooms have tried to mimic the tunnel’s climate to keep the cheese’s “distinguished” flavor.
Visitors to the tunnel are encouraged to bring a flashlight, the only light in the back is from the entrance of the tunnel. There is a steady stream of water down the walls of the tunnel and the flaps of bats can be heard periodically overhead. The kids loved using their flashlights on a day hike and shouting to hear their echoes, thankfully we were the only ones in the tunnel at that time. There is a gate ¼ mile into the tunnel to separate visitors from part of the tunnel that was damaged in 1999 by a rock slide. Outside of the tunnel is an old train car, reminiscent of those used in the 1850’s.
A half tunnel, or the tunnel to nowhere, is a necessary stop for anyone interested in the south’s history. With sounds of water running down the walls, and kids yelling echoes, it entertains children and adults alike. This area is perfect for a day trip, with bike trails all around and a short walk to a nearby waterfall. The Stumphouse Tunnel is a gem of the Blue Ridge.