Lesson Plan: Overview

End of the Line: What Happened to the Blue Ridge Railroad?

Grade Level: 5th

Academic Standards

Standard 5-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the continued westward expansion (in South Carolina) of the United States. 

5-2.1 Explain how aspects of the natural environment – including the       principal mountain ranges and rivers, terrain, vegetation, and climate of the region affected travel to the West and thus the settlement of that region. (G, H)

5-2.3 Summarize how railroads affected development of the West,           including their ease and inexpensiveness for travelers and their impact on trade and the natural environment. (G, E, H)

Social Studies Literacy Elements

 F. Ask geographic questions: Where is it located? Why is it there? What is significant about its location? How is its location related to that of other people, places, and environments?

G. Make and record observations about the physical and human characteristics of places.

I. Use maps to observe and interpret geographic information and relationships.

L. Interpret maps, letters, and other artifacts.

Historical Background Notes

Railroads developed in the mid-1800’s because of technological innovations such as the rail iron needed for tracks, steam-powered locomotives, and advancement of passenger and freight trains.  As early as 1836-1837, John C. Calhoun explored the Blue Ridge Mountains to find a “Carolina Gap.” (Plisco 2002, intro.)  In 1840 the total railroad laid across the US was less than 3,000 miles.  By 1860, it was over 27,000 miles.  The train lines moved traffic away from main water routes and across previously undeveloped land.  However, enormous amounts of capital were necessary for railroad construction. (Brinkley 2005, 152).  Some investments came from private sources, but much of it came from state and local government funding.  South Carolina was behind the North in developing their railroads because they were opposed to accepting federal funding for internal improvements within the state.( Plisco 2002, intro.)  Unfortunately, this put the entire financial burden on South Carolina and private investors. 

Towns and farms grew up along railroad routes.  Areas once inaccessible to outside markets could transport goods for commerce.  Railroads cut the time of shipment and travel and were a new stimulus for economic development. (Brinkley 2005, 152). 

Stumphouse Tunnel was quite literally the end of the line in an attempt to complete a direct railroad line from Charleston, SC to Cincinnati, Ohio.  One reason it wasn’t completed was because of financial difficulties within the state caused by the misuse of money by the original contractors Anson Bangs & Co. who from the start of the project misrepresented their qualifications to build the railroad. (Plisco 2002,13). The Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad Company was founded in 1837 by private investors in Charleston and Cincinnati.  The rail line was only completed to Anderson, Pendleton, West Union and Walhalla by the late 1850’s. Stumphouse Mountain was one of the most costly portions of the rail to complete because of it steep grade and the blue granite that had to be drilled, blasted with black powder, dug and hauled. (Plisco 2002, 118). It was too much to overcome before funding ran out.  In addition, another major problem hindering rapid progress was the lack of an adequate work force.  (Plisco 2002, 92).

In 1852, the plan for crossing the mountain was renewed.  The railroad would connect SC’s railway system to existing Midwestern railways.  In the second attempt the Blue Ridge Railroad Company was formed to complete a railway across the Blue Ridge Mountains from Anderson to Knoxville and later on to Cincinnati.  In all, 13 tunnels were needed to be dug in order to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Three of the tunnels would be in SC, the first being Stumphouse Tunnel. The two others were Middle Tunnel and Saddle Tunnel.  The Saddle Tunnel was never completed.  The Middle Tunnel was completed but was closed due to land slides, and the Stumphouse Tunnel was meant to be completed but was also closed due to land slides.  Stumphouse Tunnel was planned to be 5,863 ft., but in 1859 with only 4,363 ft. completed, the state refused to send more money. (“History of Stumphouse Tunnel.” Walhalla Chamber of Commerce. Internet, Accessed 16 July 2008.)

In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.  It was widely known that he was in favor of a federally-funded Railroad connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.  It was also understood that the Southern route to California, suggested by Jefferson Davis would be rejected because it would run through slave states.  By December 17, 1860, SC voted to leave the Union.  The political climate at the time ended any hopes for a completion of the line through Stumphouse Tunnel.  The Transcontinental Railroad did indeed take a more Northern route and the majority of the capital came from federal funds.(Plisco, 2002,109).


Primary Sources

A New Map of South Carolina: With Its Canals, Roads & Distances, From Place to Place Along the Stage & Steam Boat Routes.” Available from the Teaching U.S. History website. Accessed 16 July 2008.

 Petition of the Blue Ridge Railroad, c. 1855.” Available from the Teaching U.S. History website. Accessed 16 July 2008.

“The Railroad Mania: and Review of the Bank of the State of South-Carolina, A series of essays, By Anti-Debt.” Charleston Mercury, Charleston, South Carolina: Burges, James and Paxton, Printers 1848. Essay VII. Strom Thurmond Institute Special Collections.

Secondary Sources

Brinkley, Alan. The Unfinished Nation: A Brief, Interactive History of the American People Volume 1; To 1877. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

History of Stumphouse Tunnel.” Walhalla Chamber of Commerce. Internet, Accessed 16 July 2008.

Plisco, Betty L. The Rocky Road to Nowhere. Salem, SC: Blue Granite Books, 2002.

Stumphouse Tunnel Video”. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources 2007. Internet, Accessed 16 July 2008.

Stumphouse Tunnel.” Map Store, DD & G Professional Services, Inc. 2003-2009. Internet, Accessed 16 July 2008.


Lesson Plans

  1. Students will make a Know-Want to Know-Learned (KWL) chart on notebook paper. List everything they know about railroads in the 1840’s.
  2. Briefly discuss items students had listed with the class.
  3. Students brainstorm questions of things they would like to know about the railroad and record them under the Want to Know column.
  4. Use PowerPoint presentation, End of the Line, to illustrate the growth of railroads in the U.S., including growth of railroads in Upcountry SC.
  5. Discuss Stumphouse Tunnel as a historic site and how the failed railroad affected the city of Walhalla.
  6. Students will complete their individual “Learned” portion in the K-W-L chart.

Teacher Reflections

Teaching American History in South Carolina has been an amazing experience for me.  This course opened my eyes to the excitement of history.  For the first time in my life I learned that it is necessary to ask the right questions in order to understand the significance of events.  The content instruction, cultural institution collaboration, and methods portions of the class were key components to help me learn how to use South Carolina primary sources to teach American history.

The content instruction taught by Dr. Paul Anderson of Clemson University was very engaging.  I read nightly from Alan Brinkley’s text The Unfinished Nation Volume 1: To 1877 to prepare for the next days lesson.  The content was brought to life by a class discussion focused on key themes.  Dr. Anderson would frequently introduce three key terms.  After discussing each term at length the class would look for common threads that bound the ideas together into a comprehensive theme.  This was a totally new way for me to experience history.  I found I was actively engaged in the class and stretched to “think like a historian”.  I also learned it is essential to ask questions such as who, what, when, where, and why.  It became necessary to explain history by defining and citing significance of people and events.  Another technique I learned was that of “Fun with Events”.  This activity required groups to put events into chronological sequence in order to understand how events shouldn’t be looked at in isolation, but as a stimulus for the next event.  Belief systems trigger responses.  Finally, the class worked through a list called “Fun with Terms”.  This activity required us to choose three terms from the list in order to lead the class to the conclusions and themes planned by the teacher.

The second part of the course involved touring local cultural institutions.  I was embarrassed to realize that I had not visited a single site prior to the class.  I really did not know that so many resources were available or that so many primary sources were under my nose.  I couldn’t wait to introduce my students to the Oconee Heritage Museum located in Walhalla, SC.  I wondered how many of my students have visited the museum.  I also realized how important it is to feel connected to history.  I guess there really is something to the saying, “You have to know where you’ve been before you know where you are going.”  I wanted to bring this excitement of local history to my students so they could see how it relates to American history. 

Mandy Davison, a Master teacher from West Oak Middle School in Walhalla taught the methods instruction during the final portion of the class.  I learned the difference between primary and secondary sources.  I also learned the value of incorporating primary sources into my daily lessons.  We also talked about the RAD method, Read, Analyze, and Do.  Students needed to be actively “involved in the doing and learning of history.”  We worked on a newspaper activity, and a birth certificate information activity.  I learned what was required in my portfolio assignment.  I was also introduced to primary sources from the Treasure Trove.  I was continually amazed at the resources available to all teachers of history in South Carolina. 

The class TAHSC encouraged me to select and teach a lesson on a local topic and relate it to US history.  I probably would not have taken that approach.  However, I think by using the theme of Stumphouse Tunnel. I was able to introduce the topic of how railroads transformed the United States.  This opened discussion that will build to how the Transcontinental Railroad would play a major role in the development of the west.  I also was able to use quite a few primary sources in the lesson, including a copy of the letter requesting additional funds from the state to pay for the Blue Ridge Railroad. I would not have included such sources before taking this class.

My students took more of an interest in the topic because they already had some knowledge of Stumphouse Tunnel. I was impressed with their prior knowledge but knew they were ready to learn more to bring it to life for them. Upon reviewing the informal assessment, I was pleased to see that the majority of students were able to list at least two reasons why the Blue Ridge Railroad was never completed beyond Walhalla, SC. Most students cited a lack of funding, the steep grade of the mountain, lack of an adequate workforce, and preparation for war as reasons for the railroad’s failure. They also saw how the railroad was more developed in the Northern states.

Upon reflection, I would change my lesson to get my students thinking on a higher level. I don’t believe I had my students actively involved enough in the lesson. I am thankful I provided an opportunity for them to learn more about the railroad at the Oconee Heritage Center. At this cultural institution they were able to explore the artifacts left on Tunnel Hill. They also were able to see a recreation of the tunnel and see a mural that had been painted to depict Irish immigrants working on the tunnels.

Student Assessment

The teacher will look at the “Learned” portion in the K-W-L chart. I would expect to see at least two reasons why the Blue Ridge Railroad failed to complete a route from Charleston to Cincinnati.  No grade will be assigned to this activity, but the lesson serves as an introduction to the Transcontinental Railroad and similar challenges the builders of that railroad will face.

Examples of Students Work

Student K-W-L Chart

Student K-W-L Chart 2

Student K-W-L Chart 3

Student K-W-L Chart 4

Student K-W-L Chart 5


Wendy Westbrook
Walhalla Elementary, Walhalla, South Carolina