Thousands of Irish immigrants, escaping the poverty of Ireland, came to America in the 19th century seeking a better way of life. Many of these immigrants drifted West to build railroads and other massive engineering projects such as canals and bridges. Some of these men and their families also came South as free laborers or as indentured servants. Several large engineering projects in Antebellum South Carolina are monuments to these Irish workers.
The 1820’s was a period in which Americans sought to create internal improvements in their transportation and communication system. It was no different in South Carolina. Many in Charleston desired to tap the wealth of the West. They dreamed of a series of canals to connect the Mississippi River with the waterways of South Carolina and subsequently the city of Charleston. To accomplish this feat a plan was drawn up and the first canals were to be built in South Carolina to improve its own transportation system from the backcountry to the coast. It was an age of “canal fever.”
Today, 1,617 feet of the tunnel is exposed. The state spent more than a million dollars on the railroad and the tunnel. Only about 2/3’s of the tunnel was completed. Some sections in the interior are now flooded. Work on it was abandoned in 1859. Then came Civil War and the idea of this proposed railroad never again saw the light of day. The tunnel at Stumphouse Mountain is now a South Carolina state park. The tunnel , a constant 56 degrees year round, was used for a time in the 1940’s and 1950’s by Clemson University to make its famous Blue Cheese. This operation has since moved to the Clemson campus which is nearby. There is little on the top of the mountain to indicate the presence of Tunnel Town today.
From the Wateree to the Capitol City and from the Capitol City to the Blue Ridge of the Keowee, “Paddy” was at work in 19th century South Carolina as he was on all the subsequent frontiers of America. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day and Erin Go Braugh!
Sources Used to Write this Blog:
1) Landsford Canal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landsford_Canal
2) Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stumphouse_Mountain_Tunnel
“Columbia pays tribute to Irish laborers who built canal,” Adam Bean, The Rock Hill Herald, September 8, 2008: http://www.heraldonline.com/2008/09/06/797474/columbia-pays-tribute-to-irish.html
Oconee Heritage Center Website: http://oconeeheritagecenter.org/eratwo.html
The Historical Marker Database Website: http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=15041