Fresh Air Friday:
Stumphouse Tunnel & Issaqueena Falls
Tips To Breathe In
- Difficulty: Easy
- Price: $2 Parking Fee
- Wheelchair/Stroller Accessible?: Yes & No/Here & There
- Pet-friendly?: Keep Fido on his leash, please
- Parking: Yes
- Hours/Seasonal: 10 AM to sunset except for Christmas Day and inclement weather
- Nearby?: Historic Downtown Walhalla seven miles away
- Amenities: Picnic areas and outhouse restrooms
- Fact 1: The legend of Issaqueena was not put into writing until an essay in 1895 called her Cateechee. The name Issaqueena did not find its way into print until an 1898 poem about the legendary maiden
- Fact 2: Yes, there appears to be a trail going from the observation platform to the base of the falls. No, you are not allowed to use it
- Fact 3: Clemson bought Stumphouse Tunnel in 1951 and still owns it to this day, although it is maintained and managed by the City of Walhalla
Black Friday is only briefly in our rearview mirror, and in the spirit of the holidays… let’s talk about discounts, specifically of the “two for one” variety. No, I do not mean “trample your fellow man for an extra Wal-Mart brand flat screen” but rather two outdoor adventures that are completely unique and within a stone’s throw from each other in the same park. I will take that kind of deal over anything a big box department store can offer any day of the week.
I am speaking, of course, of Issaqueena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel – two drastically different sites that are accessible from the same parking area just west of Walhalla on Highway 28. One is a testament to the untold beauty that Mother Nature has to offer while the other is a standing symbol of man’s constant attempt to mold Her to fit his needs. Both are rich in Upstate history and it is fitting that they are forever neighbors.
I will start with the older of the two landmarks, Issaqueena Falls. The 100’ tall cascade is a spectacular site and is one of the most easily accessed waterfalls in the Upstate. The trail is wide, flat, and so short at only 250’ that one hesitates to call the journey a hike. Regardless, you are rewarded with near instant gratification as the viewing platform at the end of the trail offers unhindered views of Issaqueena Falls in any season.
When gazing upon the falls, visitors can reflect on the Native American legend that surrounds the waterfall. As the story goes, Issaqueena was a Choctaw maiden who fell in love with an English trader, an act that was frowned upon by her fellow Native Americans. Naturally, she was forced to renounce her love and was held captive in a Cherokee camp at Keowee. There she remained until learning of a Cherokee plot to attack the settlers at Ninety Six, her English devil lover included. She escaped to warn them of their impending doom but was pursued by her Cherokee captors all the way to Issaqueena Falls. There, she disappeared from their sight leading them to believe that she had done the honorable thing and leapt to her doom. In reality, however, she hid on a ledge under the falls until her pursuers gave up the chase and continued on to warn the settlers, marry her lover, and live happily ever after.
One has to admit that it is a great story and even if it is not true, we still got a cool name for an incredibly impressive Upstate waterfall.
Fast forward 100 years or so from the time of Issaqueena and you will find a very different world. In that time, Americans were attempting to construct a new railroad line to connect Charleston, South Carolina with the Ohio River valley. Construction began in the 1850’s and had a pretty easy go of things until it reached the mountains surrounding Issaqueena Falls. There it was decided that it would be easier to go through the mountain instead of over or around it and a 5,863’ tunnel was proposed (that is almost 600’ longer than a mile, for those keeping score at home). More than a million dollars and 1,617’ into the project, the State of South Carolina decided they had spent enough money and the unfinished tunnel was abandoned in 1859.
The project stood as a forgotten relic of pre-Civil War ingenuity until Clemson University put the tunnel to use in the 1950s for its bleu cheese operation. This proved wildly successful until the 1970’s when they moved into refrigerated indoor aging rooms, once again rendering the tunnel useless. Eventually, some right-minded folks at the City of Walhalla opened the site up as a public park and additional funding over the years has turned Stumphouse Tunnel into a magnificent place to visit.
Visitors today now peer into the train-sized hole in the mountainside before carefully stepping into the darkness of the tunnel. Bring a flashlight because the light behind you fades quickly and the vents at the top of the tunnel offer little in the way of navigable light. Step carefully and prepare to get a little muddy as the tunnel is always damp and cool, regardless of the temperatures outside. You cannot explore the entire 1,617’ as a locked gate blocks the full journey but it is still a worthwhile trip and wildly unique experience to find yourself deep within an Upstate mountain guided by a flashlight surrounding by little more than the sounds of gentle dripping and your own breath.
But Wait, There’s More
For the extra initiated, there are the relics of two other tunnels nearby, neither in the condition of Stumphouse Tunnel. Middle Tunnel and Saddle Tunnel are nearby and are accessible by a wooded hiking trail but both are either filled in or submerged. Middle Tunnel collapsed years ago and now bears more of the appearance of a natural cave than anything that would have accommodated anything the size of a train. For its part, Saddle Tunnel is mostly submerged by a small lake but what remains of the entrance is visible to hikers who know where to look for it.
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