Red leaves at the edge of a field in Huntsville, TN
Huntsville Falls & Abandoned Railroad Tunnels on Phillips Creek
Kenny & Dana Koogler
Saturday Oct. 27, 2018
Total hike distance 2 miles RT
Jared & Gabe in our living room
I had been wanting for some time to see a number of separate features in the Huntsville, TN area.
We sat down and talked it over. We decided to just take the jeep and hike instead of go riding.
We figured it was going to be too much jumping around to make it worthwhile. We also had
Crystal & Adam keeping Gabriel for the day so we had a shorter day to explore. Jared came up and visited with them and helped. Bethany, Averie and Walter also came over. Gabe had the time of his life being treated like a golden child by Averie! She even got him to eat! He had fun and so did we.
We stopped by Huntsville in Scott County and easily found the old jail and the waterfall behind it.
It is called Town Spring on Google maps, but on Tennessee Landforms it has the designation
Huntsville Falls. A short distance past it is Paint Rock Creek Cascade. It is on the old Litton
Covered Bridge Road, but that is all private property. I read in the paper that while it is technically still a county road it is hotly contested by the folks living out that way. They want it closed to traffic. It wasn't worth taking the risk or upsetting someone over seeing a six foot high cascade.
I also lost interest in going out that way once I found there was no longer a covered bridge on it.
Below: the old Huntsville Jail right in the middle of town
Old Town Spring Park
Huntsville Falls aka Town Spring. Hard to tell from this photo, but it is a fair sized waterfall. It is about 20 ft high.
Below is a short video of the waterfall. It would not be worth a special trip to see by itself, but if you are in the area it is worth the short time and effort it takes to visit.
We had several things we wanted to see so we did not tarry long. The day was drizzly and overcast. A fine mist of rain came down periodically and it was cold. The colors on the drive had been very pretty though. We did some recon prior to the visit as it related to access points for finding the abandoned train tunnels. I am not including directions to these on this blog. They are visited a fair amount by people, but technically the property is still posted. I don't know if that means the land owners really don't want visitors there or if it is posted mainly to prevent them from being sued by someone who might get hurt. I could easily describe how to get to the tunnels, but I could not really tell you how to get to all the stuff we saw while wandering up and down the creek and through the woods. I'd get you lost for sure.
We pulled over through a field and I was pleased how well my jeep handled the rough terrain.
We had to go through one muddy spot, but it didn't stop us. We came to the crest of a hill and could see before us the current railroad in the distance. Below us lay the oldest railgrade and between the two lay a road that was the remains of a third rail line. It had to happen between the two time periods.
Old railroad tie that has washed downstream
Phillips Creek is a fair sized stream. Bigger than we anticipated. We had to end up fording it a couple times. We stayed dry which was amazing. We had not planned on creek crossings.
Once across we came to the gravel road which was the rail grade that hit during the time period between the first one and the current one. Hunting tunnels is a little like hunting arches.
Harder than hunting waterfalls because you don't have as much to go on. They don't have to have a stream. We missed a few turns, but we would have missed some spectacular scenery if we'd found the tunnels right off.
Phillips Creek. We crossed right upstream from this spot.
Above: Looking downstream on Phillips Creek. What glorious Autumn colors!
We wandered up through here in our search. It was not necessary as it turns out, but had we not done so we'd have missed some pretty stuff. The old rail road cut went through here and to me this looks a bit like a tunnel it is so narrow and dark! Just beyond this we climbed up over a berm of earth and walked on the far side of the stream. We ended up coming down a finger of land to the confluence of Phillips Creek with another side stream! From here the stream got stronger and prettier with more water.
I found a place to ford and kept going until I got a good view of this small, scenic cascade.
The area is a maze of old paths and rail cuts. Finally Kenny said we were closer to the southern tunnel than the north one. The smartest thing to do was go in search of that one and double back looking for the north tunnel. We'd bypassed it somehow. I guessed it was on the opposite side of a bridge we crossed on the gravel road. It was one place we did not investigate. While in this spot hunting for the south tunnel Kenny hollered out that he could see it. We went down stream a bit further and sure enough we come to the South tunnel. It was really pretty, but I could tell it was not what I'd been looking for. Something was off about it.
Below: South tunnel
Kenny pointed out something to me that I had not paid attention to. The stream flowed then disappeared underground! Very unusual for this part of the Cumberland Mountains. You see it frequently in the Cumberland Plateau. It was apparent that the stream turned out this way due to the railroad coming through. The very first time I saw a photo of the South Phillips Creek tunnel I was intrigued and wanted to see it. At the same time I had that something isn't right about this photo feeling. What was wrong was WHY is water flowing out of a tunnel where the trains used to run?
Water and railroads don't go together well. The answer was simply that the original tunnel didn't have water flowing through it. The stream ran by in its channel and the tunnel alongside it.
Later when they found it necessary to close the tunnels and reroute the line, they blasted this tunnel's floor and diverted the stream. During times of heavy rain and flooding the stream flows through the tunnel. On the far side is a 10 foot falls. The rest of the time the stream flows underground. We walked on down past this point and saw that it does this a couple times coming up and going back underground again! Water stood in the middle of the tunnel, but it was not real deep. It was common practice to "daylight" abandoned tunnels. They'd be blasted so they were open on top.
I am glad they didn't blow all of them up.
I debated going through the tunnel, but Kenny discouraged me from doing so. It was slow going because everything was super slick. He felt like it was too unstable and just didn't want to attempt it. We walked the newer rail bed and went back down that to the far end and it was faster for sure.
We then had to climb down over the bank holding onto trees to get down where we could see the far end of the tunnel. It was rather pretty. This is the end where the waterfall is if we have lots of rain.
You can't tell it from this angle, but this is the brink of what would be a waterfall. just outside the tunnel.
We walked the old railbed down a bit further. We enjoyed the Autumn colors and scents.
It felt so good to be outdoors getting some fresh air and stretching our legs. We strolled back at a leisurely pace. We hoped we'd find the other tunnel too. Kenny was in full engineer mode. He was studying the way the old railroad must have run. You could practically hear the wheels turning in his brain. He was figuring it out fast. He sent me down along the old railbed in one direction to look for a path to the left as we headed out. He doubled back to look where he thought it might be.
It was only a matter of seconds til he hollered to me he'd found it. He indicated for me to head toward him. Sure enough across Phillips Creek was one end of the tunnel. The cut here was narrow and steep sided.
Below is the first entrance of the north tunnel. Beyond the berm of earth the tunnel was powdery dry! We were able to go clear through it. It was in good condition.
Below the north entrance of Tunnel #13. you can see brick work on either end of this.
We were thrilled to have found both of the tunnels. It was a neat experience. Other things we hoped to do today, but ran out of time.
Tunnel #15 at Robbins TN
The Eternal Flame and Puncheon Camp Falls at Norma
Glenmary Coke Ovens and Powder House
Tank Springs at Lafollette
Lafollette Coke Ovens
Two of these are on Tennessee Landforms. Tank Springs is on Google maps.
The rest is not. Suggestions for anyone who might be searching for something interesting to check out.
We hiked back to the jeep easily. We grabbed some lunch in Oneida and headed home.
Just a short outing refreshed us greatly. Gabe had a good time playing with his cousins.
Below is a 10 minute video of the tunnel search and find. Longer than the usual videos for me, but that is the readers digest condensed version of half days adventure.