Stumphouse Tunnel has an interesting history.
The tunnel was first proposed in 1835 by residents of Charleston, South Carolina as a new and shorter route for the Blue Ridge Railroad between Charleston and the Ohio river valley area which until then was only accessible by bypassing the mountains entirely to the South and then traveling up north through Georgia and middle Tennessee. In 1852, 13 miles of tunnel were proposed to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains through South Carolina, North Carolina, and into Tennessee. Construction on the railway was begun in the late 1850s and was successful through most of South Carolina until hitting the mountains around Wallhalla in Oconee County. There Stumphouse tunnel along with three other tunnels was to be built. Construction on Stumphouse tunnel began in 1856 when the George Collyer Company of London brought many Irish workers into the area for this project. Many of the workers lived in housing on top of Stumphouse mountain called Tunnel Hill. By 1859, the State of South Carolina had spent over a million dollars on the tunnel and refused to spend any more on the project, therefore the tunnel work was abandoned.
The tunnel is pretty imposing, especially when you consider that it was excavated largely by hand. There several ghost stories associated with the tunnel. Most of them are contrived at best, but they’re fun to recite to kids before heading into the crypt-like cavern. After you get about 1600 feet in, the remaining tunnel is blocked by an old, rusted gate. Sometimes the gate has been pried open, other times it’s locked. Regardless, you’ll want to wear a headlamp when you’re exploring the tunnel. There’s water dripping through the cracks in the ceiling and pooling on the ground, so using your cell flashlight is a risky proposition.
There are supposed to be gravestones on the mountain above the tunnel, but I’ve hiked all over the place and didn’t see any old marker stones. Issaqueena Falls is on the other side of the park. This is a great picnic spot with several nearby attractions. There’s a hike that follows the old rail path that goes to another uncompleted (and not public) tunnel 2.5 miles away. It’s a 5-mile round trip called the Blue Ridge Railroad Historical Trail. The trailhead is right next to Issaqueena Falls.