Blue Ridge Railroad. South Caroliniana Library.

Blue Ridge Railroad

1852–1874

Primarily supported by Charleston merchants and built by Irish and German immigrants and local slaves, the Blue Ridge Railroad was intended to return the port city to commercial prominence in the region. Funding was problematic, however, with investors outside of Charleston displaying little interest in the project. Only a massive infusion of state funds in the mid-1850s kept the Blue Ridge Railroad alive, but it was not enough to complete the line.

Chartered in 1852, the Blue Ridge Railroad revived earlier plans to connect Charleston to the Midwest by rail, a scheme first put forth by the failed Louisville, Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad in the 1830s. The proposed route of the Blue Ridge commenced at Anderson, then passed through Pendleton and the new settlement of Walhalla before passing into Rabun County, Georgia, on its way to Knoxville, Tennessee, and points beyond. The new town of Belton would arise at the junction of the Blue Ridge with the Greenville and Columbia Railroad.

Primarily supported by Charleston merchants and built by Irish and German immigrants and local slaves, the Blue Ridge Railroad was intended to return the port city to commercial prominence in the region. Funding was problematic, however, with investors outside of Charleston displaying little interest in the project. Only a massive infusion of state funds in the mid-1850s kept the Blue Ridge Railroad alive, but it was not enough to complete the line. Districts not connected by the route and competing railroad projects bitterly opposed additional funding by the General Assembly, forcing the company to cease construction in 1859 due to financial troubles and mismanagement. The thirty-three-mile line cost almost $2.5 million, with the most costly and famous portion of the route being the uncompleted Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel. The German settlement of Walhalla became the terminus of the unfinished route.

After the Civil War, the idea of finishing the railroad was revived, but financial difficulties quickly overtook the company. In 1868 Governor Robert Scott persuaded the General Assembly to issue bonds to pay for the completion of the route. The attempt was usurped by corrupt legislators of both parties, who worked to have the state sell its interest in the Blue Ridge to private interests at greatly reduced prices. The corruption of the Blue Ridge “ring” became one of the most notorious examples of the fiscal misconduct of the Reconstruction era. Despite the initial postwar interest, the Blue Ridge Railroad added no more track to its antebellum line. In October 1874 the assets of the controversial company were broken up, and the completed portion of the track was eventually incorporated into the Southern Railway System.

Brown, George Dewitt. “A History of the Blue Ridge Railroad, 1852–1874.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1967.

Ford, Lacy K., Jr. Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry, 1800–1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Haughey, Jim. “Tunnel Hill: An Irish Mining Community in the Western Carolinas.” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association (2004): 51–62.

Williamson, Joel. After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina during Recon- struction, 1861–1877. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Blue Ridge Railroad
  • Coverage 1852–1874
  • Author
  • Keywords Chartered in 1852, connect Charleston to the Midwest by rail, uncompleted Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel, Southern Railway System
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 1, 2020
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 14, 2016
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