Adventures of the Upstate: Stumphouse Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls
If You Only Have 60 Seconds…
- Oconee is filled with fantastic spots for you to experience all of nature’s wonder.
- Stumphouse Tunnel, once filled with blue cheese, is now an interesting attraction worth a visit.
- Steeped in Native American lore, Issaqueena Falls a picturesque landscape perfect for a short hike or a picnic.
Located near the town of Walhalla are two of Oconee County’s top attractions, Stumphouse Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls. In fact, these two attractions are some of the most gorgeous in the entire Upstate. Stumphouse Tunnel maintains a near constant 56-degree temperature and is a welcome respite on a hot summer day. Nearby at Issaqueena Falls, visitors can enjoy the waterfall and have a picnic at this shady, wooded retreat.
In 1852, this railroad tunnel was begun as part of a route that was to extend from Charleston to Knoxville and eventually on to Cincinnati, Ohio. Fifteen hundred workers, mostly Irish immigrants, worked twelve hours a day, six days a week using only sledgehammers, hand drills, and black powder to carve out the hard granite from Stumphouse Mountain. It’s been said that the mountain defeated the rail line because in 1859 lack of funds interrupted construction and then the Civil War brought construction to a halt. There were various efforts by the Blue Ridge Railroad to revive the tunnel construction, but it never came to fruition.
In the 1950s, a professor at Clemson University realized that the constant fifty-six-degree temperature with 85% humidity conditions of the tunnel was ideal for making blue cheese (because, why wouldn’t you make blue cheese). They used the tunnel to perfect the curing process for several years before it was moved back to the college.
Today the 1617-foot-long tunnel is one of the most visited sites in South Carolina. It’s considered somewhat of an oddity and a monument to pre-civil war engineering. When visiting be sure to take a flashlight as the tunnel is very dark. The constantly dripping water and the bats overhead make this a perfectly spooky locale. To up the creep factor, in recent years, there have been some falling rocks near the airshaft so a gate has been installed and you can only go about 50 yards into the tunnel.
This waterfall is named for a Creek Indian maiden named Issaqueena who had been captured by the Cherokees. She met and fell in love with a white trader named Allan Francis. In true love story fashion, when she learned that the Cherokee were planning an attack on the fort where her beloved lived, she warned the white settlers. When the Cherokee came after her, Issaqueena practiced quick-thinking. Knowing that the Cherokee believed evil spirits lived in waterfalls, she pretended to jump over the falls but instead she hid on a ledge behind the falls. She remained there until they were gone, thus tricking her pursuers.
You can visit these legendary falls today. There is a short, easy walking trail that leads to an overlook where you can view the 200-foot cascading falls.
Blue Ridge Railroad Trail
If you’re feeling adventurous, the Blue Ridge Railroad Trail at Issaqueena Falls is one of the lesser trekked trails in Oconee County. It’s marked by a small sign and yellow trailblazers. The moderately strenuous trail is about 4.5 miles round trip and follows along the railroad grade approach to Stumphouse Tunnel. Be prepared with bug spray as some of the trail is a little overgrown, and spiders and ticks are prevalent.
Stumphouse Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls are located about 7 miles Northwest of Walhalla on Highway 28.
The park is maintained by the City of Walhalla and is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. except for Christmas Day and inclement weather days.
Admission is free. There are outhouse restrooms and picnic tables.
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