Issaqueena Falls

& Tunnel Falls


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Issaqueena Falls has a similar story as Connestee Falls south of Brevard, NC. In each case, the falls are named after an Indian maiden who allegedly jumped from the falls out of love for a white man. Where as Connestee jumped to her death, the Issaqueena legend has a happier ending. Issaqueena fell in love with David Francis, a silversmith who lived in what is now the town of Ninety Six, South Carolina. Learning that her tribe planned a surprise attack on the settlement, Issaqueena mounted her horse to warn the settlers. On her ride, she mentally named the landmarks she passed along the way: Mile Creek, Six Mile, Twelve Mile, Eighteen Mile, Three and Twenty, Six and Twenty, and finally Ninety Six. The towns of Six Mile and Ninety Six and the creeks bearing these names continue to exist. It is actually 92 miles from her starting point to Ninety Six, so she was pretty close.

Issaqueena and David fled to what is now Stumphouse Mountain north of Walhalla to escape the fury of her betrayed tribe. The lovers lived in a large, hollowed-out tree or Stumphouse. Finally tracked down by her tribesmen, Issaqueena raced to a nearby falls (now Issaqueena Falls) and plunged out of sight into the cataract. Believing her dead, the warriors gave up the search. However, Issaqueena later joined her husband and fled to Alabama to live happily ever after. Theoretically, you could jump off the top of the 100-foot falls, land safely on the first tier of the falls and hide under the veil of falling water. But, I wouldn't advise it. Especially since a new overlook was recently built at the falls. This overlook, while obscured by two or three trees, provides a great view of the falls. For a sense of the size of the falls, notice the people standing near the brink of the falls in the top photo. A primitive trail to the base is still open, but it is not neccessary to hike it anymore to get a view of the entire falls.

Issaqueena Falls also features another attraction - the Stumphouse Mountain railroad tunnel. Southern industrialists dreamed of a railroad connecting the American Midwest with the port of Charleston. A tunnel through Stumphouse Mountain would be a vital link in that railroad. The work began in 1852, and the tunnel was anticipated to be finished by 1861. The Blue Ridge Railroad attempted to construct this line through and over the mountains to Knoxville, Tennessee. The Civil War halted the work. After the war, efforts to re-activate the project failed and the tunnel was abandoned.

The entrance of the tunnel has become a historic landmark in South Carolina. The tunnel measures 25 feet high by 17 feet wide and extends 1600 feet through granite into the heart of Stumphouse Mountain. At the midway point, a 16 by 20 foot airshaft extends upward 60 feet to the surface. According to Clemson University's Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, cold air moving out of the mouth of the tunnel pulls warm air down the shaft. The moisture in this warm air is condensed by the cold air in the tunnel and produces a constant wetness in the tunnel. This cool, refreshing breeze that blows out of the tunnel is long remembered by summer visitors.

The unfinished Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel lay idle for the 80 years following the Civil War, being visited by tourists for years but not being used otherwise. In 1940, a Clemson A&M College (now University) professor recognized the possibilities of curing blue mold cheese in the tunnel because of its cool dampness. With this thought in mind, the Clemson Dairy Department began experimenting with the manufacture of blue cheese and curing it in the tunnel. Clemson bought the tunnel in 1951 but has since moved its cheese curing operations to another location. In 1970, the tunnel was leased to the Pendleton Historical District Commission, which converted the area into a picnic spot and tourist attraction. After a rockslide inside the tunnel in the mid 1990's, the tunnel was closed to visitors. After safety testing, the city of Walhalla has re-opened the tunnel to visitors.

Be sure to bring a flashlight so you can walk all the way to the end. Once you pass the airshaft, look carefully for the hundreds of small brown bats clinging to the walls of the tunnel. Look but please don't touch or otherwise pester them.

Tunnel Falls

Directions: From Walhalla, take SC 28 north for six miles. If you pass the Stumphouse Mountain Ranger Station on your right, you have gone too far. The entrance to the Issaqueena Park is on the right before the ranger station. This paved entrance road is quite steep. Turn right to enter the picnic area above the falls. Follow the creek to the top of the falls. To view the falls, cross the creek and follow a wide, graveled path for a couple hundred feet to the overlook. You can see where someone could safely land if they did jump off the falls. A path goes down to the right of the overlook if you must see the falls from the base. To visit the tunnel, follow the paved road to where it ends and walk 100 yards up the graveled road to the tunnel entrance. Tunnel Falls, a low streamflow cascade, is to the left of the tunnel.

All photos Allen Easler.