Take it easy
  Sutro Tunnel (Sutro)

39°16′48″N 119°35′03″W

VISITED 2/12/2022
DIRECTIONS PRIVATE PROPERTY -- BY APPOINTMENT ONLY: Take US 50 east out of dayton to Fortune Drive, left on Sugarloaf, right on Dayton Village Parkway, left on Sutro Tunnel Road for about 0.2 miles

A general overview from the historical marker:

Sutro was a town, a tunnel, and a man. The well-planned community was headquarters for the Sutro Drainage Tunnel. German-born Adolph Sutro came to the Comstock in 1860. He advocated a drainage tunnel, visualizing development of Comstock ore with this access. By 1865, his vision gained approval of state and federal legislation. However, the mining interests, having at first supported the tunnel, became strongly opposed. When construction began in 1869, it was first financed by the mine workers since the tunnel would presumably improve mine safety. Later, the funding came from international bankers. Miners completed the main tunnel in 1878 and then extended lateral excavations, providing drainage, ventilation and access to many Comstock mines. The work on the tunnel from its lower end created a town of 600-800 and boasted of a church, post office and its own weekly newspaper, plus Sutro’s Victorian mansion and other fine residences. Adolph Sutro soon sold his interest in the tunnel company and returned to San Francisco, where he served as mayor.

Mines in the Comstock were constantly being enlarged and deepened, but besides the rich ore they were famous for, they also ran into another product which they didn’t want— water. The only way to get rid of the water was to pump it out— not an easy feat when you consider it had to be pumped one third of a mile straight up. Engineer Adolph Sutro decided an easier way would be do dig a tunnel from the Dayton area, through the mountains, about four miles away underneath Virginia City and mines to drain the water. Using mathematics, shovels, explosives, and mules, he began digging (well, probably had other people digging for him) October 19, 1869, reaching the Savage Mine on September 1, 1878. It was allegedly only a foot and a half off its target. While the Tunnel worked as advertised, by the time 1878 rolled around, mining activity had declined significantly, and many of the mines were well below the tunnel itself. It was still cheaper to pump water up into the Sutro Tunnel than it was to the surface, and it also provided some ventilation and an escape route should any of the upper levels get blocked by fires or cave-ins. When the tunnel was completed, Sutro sold his interests, moved to San Francisco, became Mayor. After his tenure as Mayor, he built the Sutro Baths, a large public saltwater swimming pool complex in Western San Francisco. It opened on opened March 14, 1896. Adolph Sutro died in August 8, 1898. The Baths burned to the ground in 1966, and all that remain are ruined foundations.

Less famous than Sutro the man or Sutro the tunnel was Sutro the town. It began as a construction camp for the tunnel, but Adolph carefully made plans for the town, and envisioned miners living there and commuting to work via the tunnel.  He built a fine house there (which burned down in 1941) laid out streets and parks, and eventually 600- 800 people lived there. But by 1880 only a little over 400 people remained, and by 1890 most of the buildings were gone. By 1920 the post office closed.

The Hole

Water in the mines was a particular problem when the shafts reached a certain depth, and it was difficult to get rid of.

But heat and bad air were not the only problems, or even the most difficult. It was the floods of water gushing into the lower workings that hastened the abandonment of deep mining on the lode. Washoe engineers always maintained that, given ore of sufficient richness, means could be devised to operate at any depth; the only question was: Will it pay? But experience eventually proved that there were mechanical limits to the volume of water that could be raised from depths of three thousand feet and beyond. As the 1870's ended, that limit was being approached the length of the lode. Above fifteen hundred feet, keeping the mines dry presented no insuperable problems, but when the shafts penetrated below two thousand feet the difficulties multiplied. In 1875 so large a volume of water was encountered in the Hale & Norcross and Savage that their powerful pumps were unable to cope with it and the lower workings were flooded to a depth of 450 feet. New and still larger pumps were installed, but despite their capacity of ten million gallons a month the pumping-out process proved tediously slow: after thirty months of continuous operation, the water level had fallen only fifty feet. By 1880 the combined shaft of the Consolidated Virginia and California had pumps with a capacity of 640 gallons a minute, operated by an engine developing 480 horsepower. Even more massive equipment was presently installed at other mine-heads: engines of six hundred horsepower operated pumps capable of hoisting a hundred thousand gallons an hour from depths of 2,800 feet. Yet this powerful apparatus, working continuously at full capacity, was barely able to keep pace with the torrents of water draining into the mines. By then many were ready to admit that deep mining had about reached its farthest limit. Only surpassingly rich new ore bodies—none of which were encountered—would justify the expense of further increasing the number and size of the Cornish pumps. The Sutro Tunnel was broken through in 1878, after thirteen years of Herculean effort, and only then was the water brought under control. The tunnel, with its lateral extensions north and south, tapped the lode at the 1,650-foot level and it was necessary only to pump from the bottoms of the shafts to that point. But the long delay in completing the project had rendered it comparatively useless. By then the last of the great ore bodies had been worked out and—no others of comparable size having been discovered—operations began the decline that was to end a few years later in an almost complete stoppage.
-The Silver Kings, Oscar Lewis

While the tunnel seems like a splendid idea at first, Sutro later had to fight to get it built- there was much pressure from the anti-tunnel folks. Some of them did not like the idea of their ore coming out someplace other than the mouths of their mines, and feared their monopoly on milling would be broken. There were also arguments about who would pay, and how much. From one of his biographers:

This thought found expression in a letter, first published in the "San Francisco Alta," April 30, 1860. "An unfeasible plan !" "The audacity of a dreamer !" sneered the pessimistic, for well they knew that a gateway through granite needed the
resonance supplied by bonds and coined securities, ere the hidden treasures of the caverns would be made to surrender.
-Adolph Sutro- A Brief Story of a Brilliant Life, Holmes, 1895

Most certainly supported the idea- at first.

The Sutro Drain Tunnel is in a fair way to be soon commenced - Nye County News
That's so. We saw Mr. Sutro in Virginia City, yesterday; had a talk with him on the subject of his great Comstock Ledge Tapper, and he gave us to understand that his Drain Tunnel will shortly be commenced. This will no doubt be the greatest enterprise ever undertaken in this State, and will enable the companies located on the great Comstock Ledge to bring forth millions of dollars in silver where they are now only getting tens of thousands. Almost ever day's developments in our Gold Hill mines demonstrate that the deeper they go the richer is their silver harvest. But the time will come, ere the snows of many Winters, when our present most flourishing mines will find their machinery inadequate to contend against what we all must know is an immense subterranean body of water in the lower depths of the Comstock.
-Gold Hill News, August 24, 1865

An exchange says the mining companies of the Comstock lode have concluded to enter into contract with the Sutro Tunnel Company for the drainage of their mines. The Gould and Curry, Crown Point, Imperial and Savage Companies have adopted it, and the other companies have called meetings for the purpose of doing so.
-The Sacramento Bee, April 2, 1866

It was estimated that the cost of digging the tunnel would be at least five million dollars. [That's about $94,000,000 in 2020 dollars.] Securing financing was essential to the project.

Here is the whole thing in a nutshell: Our monied men say to Nevada mining companies: "Start the wheels yourselves, and then we'll help you run the machine." This is what we prognosticated long ago, and we then advised the Comstock mining companies to take hold of the matter themselves and push it through. The cost of this great work is estimated at $5,000,000-- a mere bagatelle [a thing of little importance; a very easy task] to these companies, whose aggregated mines are valued at hundreds of millions.
-Gold Hill News, January 17, 1867

It took more effort than holding a few bake sales.

Years have passed since Adolph Sutro first conceived the mighty idea of a tunnel from the banks of the Carson River, four miles in length, which should intersect the great Comstock lode at a depth of about 2,000 feet. Years have passes, and yet that tunnel has not even been practically commenced. All the necessary grants, rights of way, and legislative assistance and encouragement he [Sutro] secured long ago; money was the only requisite left wanting. He failed to interest the capitalists of America or Europe to an extent sufficient to unloose their purse strings, but Government is evidently about to assist him, the Committee on Mines and Mining having reported a bill to Congress granting a loan of United States bonds to the amount of $5,000,555 in aid of the Sutro Tunnel. This may not be quite enough, but it will do very well for a starter. Eight million dollars is estimated as the probable cost, and four years as the time of completion.
-Gold Hill News, June 30, 1868

The fire at the Yellow Jacket Mine on April 6, 1869, illustrated yet another advantage of the Sutro Tunnel— escape. That day, a candle or lamp left burning on a wall of timber some 900 feet deep in the mine, started a fire. Supports collapsed, debris filled the tunnels, gases and dust poured into the Yellow Jacket and neighboring Kentuck shafts. Air pouring in through the Kentuck mine fed the conflagration. The fire spread to the neighboring Crown Point Mine. On April 8 it was reported that twenty-eight bodies in all had been recovered. There are four more known to be in the mine, and there may possibly be eight more. The fire remains as in the morning, still burning on the 900-foot level, and on the line below the Kentuck and the Yellow Jacket near the south entry. Owing to cave-ins and the like, the bodies of many miners remains entombed underneath the Comstock. It was the worst mining disaster in the history of Nevada. If the Sutro Tunnel had been completed, many theorize that most if not all of the miners could have made their way to safety. The tragedy was used by some to push for the Tunnel in the face of opposition.

The miner's unions of Gold Hill and Virginia City began to get a little perturbed at what they saw as ignoring the potential improvements to their working conditions that the Tunnel would provide.

The following resolutions were adopted at a joint meeting of the Virginia and Gold Hill Miners' Unions
August 25th:
WHEREAS, it has become apparent that the difficulties in working the mines on the Comstock lode as depth increases, will in the course of a few years become so great that it will no longer be profitable to work them; and
Whereas, We are convinced that the only remedy to prevent so disastrous a result lies in the construction of the Sutro Tunnel, which, besides securing drainage, ventilation, great facilities for cheap mining, and giving new lease of life to these mines for many years to come, will also open up the vast argentiferous country lying to the east-ward of the Comstock lode, and thus se-cure hundreds of millions of treasury which would otherwise remain buried in the bowels of the earth; and
Whereas, Congress, by a special Act, has conferred upon and granted to the Sutro Tunnel Company a tract of mineral land, together with privileges and rights, which, in our opinion, are worth millions of dollars, and will make the tunnel enterprise, in a financial view, the most promising mining undertaking ever projected within the United States; and
Whereas, it is greatly to the interest of the whole nation to assist in our grand index work, which, while it will practically prove the continuance of our mineral lodes in depth, thereby establishing the great wealth contained in our western mountains, will also inaugurate a lasting, profitable and rational system of mining,  giving confidence to private capital in similar undertakings; and
Whereas, We, the miners, who are compelled to delve and toil daily in an atmosphere heated and corrupted to such a degree that our health becomes impaired, in many instances resulting in consumption, and an early death, are the parties most deeply interested in the construction of this great work, which, had it been in existence at the late disastrous fire in the Gold Hill mines, which hurled into eternity forty-two of our brethren, would have given them the means of egress, and thus saved their lives; and,
Whereas, We consider the immediate commencement of the work on the tunnel as of the most pressing necessity, and paramount to all other interests of this section of country; therefore, be it
Resolved By the miners of the Virginia and Gold Hill Unions, in joint convention assembled, that, as an earnest of our faith in the results to spring from the construction of the Sutro Tunnel, as a great national work, and as a financial operation, we do hereby agree to subscribe to the stock of the Sutro Tunnel Company the sum fifty thousand dollars in United States gold coin, as a first installment, payable immediately, and for the purpose of commencing work upon the tunnel itself without delay; and be it further
Resolved, That we hereby earnestly appeal to the people of Nevada, California and the Pacific coast in general, but especially to the working classes, to subscribe to the stock of the Sutro Tunnel Company, be it in amounts ever so small, as liberally as their means will allow, on that the financial future of this noble work may be secured at an early day and make it, as much as possible, a workingman's institution; and, be it further
Resolved, That the newspapers on the Pacific coast, and the United States at large, friendly to the development of our great mineral resources, are requested to publish this preamble and resolutions.
-Carson Daily Appeal, August 29, 1869

The mood of the local press began to turn against Sutro.

This is Mr. Sutro's version of the matter ; now we will give our version, as we are quite well acquainted with the whole business from personal knowledge. Four years ago hardly any of the shafts on the Comstock ledge were down over seven or eight hundred feet, and in sinking that depth the large quantities of water encountered were a heavy drawback to mining ; and it was generally believed that as the miners went deeper the quantity of water would be increased. Hence, the mining companies were desirous of making arrangements to have their mines drained ; and with this view subscribed liberally and promptly in order to enable Mr. Sutro to commence operations on his great drain tunnel, and to inspire confidence into the minds of members of Congress that it was a necessary enterprise for the development of our mineral wealth, and merited the assistance of Congress through an appropriation from the national treasury. A whole year passed around, and Mr. Sutro had not struck a pick in the ground towards opening his tunnel. The Comstock during that very year yielded the handsome sum of fifteen million dollars—and yielded it without the drainage of the Sutro tunnel. But Mr. Sutro says in his lecture that he was at Washington to get the right of way and a grant for blind ledges not yet discovered I Well, he got the right of way—and he has it yet —but it has never yet drained a drop of water from the Comstock. In those days men who wanted to dig tunnels and open mines did not run to Washington to get the right of way—not much—if they had, they would have come out " very short " in having mines or tunnels of any kind to this day. The truth is, the whole country had its " right of way " thrown open by Congress to every man who wanted to mine or tunnel; and as the whole region which was designed for the Sutro tunnel was unclaimed and unoccupied, except the New Brunswick series of claims, there was no necessity for a grant of the right of way from Congress any more than it was to get one to run the Cole tunnel into Cedar Hill or its neighborhood, or any other mining operation. Here was the great turning point in Mr. Sutro's management. He was not satisfied with commencing his tunnel with the assistance of three or four hundred thousand dollars subscribed by our mining companies, as an earnest that he meant business, but his ideas loomed up into of dollars as the great essential figure to carry out, as he expressed it, " the greatest mining work of the age!" Steadily the work of mining was going on under the management of our enterprising companies (including the sagacity and energy of the much-abused Sharon, of the Bank), and another year rolled around, and another twelve millions of solid wealth was extracted from the Comstock, and that, too, without the assistance of the great Sutro tunnel! Mr. Sutro organized (so he said last night) his company on the 4th of February, 1865, and, as he had not done anything to benefit the mines on the Comstock up to the 1st day of August, 1867—contrary to contract — but had wasted his time running about Washington and New York, living a high life and talking about the great " Sutro Tunnel" of which he was the " big lnjun"—the Trustees of our mining companies became sick and tired with his trilling, and accordingly voted to rescind any appropriations or subscriptions which had previously been posted by them or their predecessors, and declaring their contracts with Mr. Sutro null and void by reason of a non fulfillment of the obligations on the part of Mr. Sutro. This was a very plain business matter, and soon let Mr. Sutro out with the mining companies; and for all of which Mr. Sutro now denounces the Bank of California in prolific language, neither polite nor dainty. No doubt the public can judge whether the mining companies did right or wrong in the premises. Business is business—when understood by business men; and when it to not understood, a man proves himself a fool or a knave to whine over his own ignorance. Experience has shown that there is less necessity for the Sutro Tunnel now than there was five or six years ago.
-Gold Hill Daily News, September 21, 1869

Adolph had a few choice words of his own. He was not happy with the Bank of California

TO THE PEOPLE of NEVADA: the first pick in the Sutro Tunnel has been struck and the good work is daily progressing: but to complete it requires millions of dollars, which cannot be obtained on the Pacific coast. In order to inspire confidence to capitalists abroad, and in order to make Congress fully appreciate the true sentiments  entertained here. it is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY that a general and substantial indorsement of the project should be made right here at home.  The California Bank Ring, the arch enemy of this great and good work, which in its results will be so magnificent and benevolent, will, as it has heretofore. use every effort to impress capitalists at a distance with the belief that they, the supposed owners of these mines, being opposed to the Tunnel look upon it as an undertaking useless, unnecessary unprofitable and chimerical. They will do everything within their power to control the action of our Senators, Fuel and will leave nothing undone to create the same impressions in Washington and will, by fair or foul means, try to defeat any subsidy which Congress may be willing to grant. There is but one way to defeat their machinations! There is but one way to sustain the projector in his efforts to accomplish this great work! There is but one way of bringing about the ardently wished for results! Let every man and woman, who can spare five dollars go promptly up to the office of the Sutro Tunnel Company and buy ONE SHARE, at least of unassessable stock. Let 2,000 or 3,000 of the men and women, who live on this very spot. and ought to be the best judges of the importance of this work, indorse it by becoming stockholders in the Company; let 2,000 or 3,000 men and women, the true owners of these mines, say they are willing to invest their money, and that they have confidence in the results to flow from the undertaking, and then let the Bank ring come forward,  and dare to misrepresent and belie the will of the people! It is not so much the amount of money which can be raised in Nevada;  it is the home indorsement which is required: five dollars to you, working men and women, fleeced and swindled as you have been, is a great deal of money; it is as much as thousands dollars are to the wealthy in great cities: and still you can all spare that amount if you will only make the effort. Come in  then promptly; no not postpone it for a day; subscribe and pay for one share of stock; your names are recorded in the books; you become stockholders for all intents and purposes; it makes you as much entitled to a hearing as if you own a thousand shares; you do own your own portion of the property of the Company now possessed or hereafter to be acquired; you thereby indorse the enterprise; you say you have confidence in it; you cast your vote for the Sutro Tunnel and against the opposition of the California Bank; you sustain the projector in his efforts, and declare that you will stand by him, see fair play, and that he shall not be crushed out by that scheming combination, the California Bank Ring! There is no time to lose; let all come in at once; let those at a distance subscribe by letter; but little time intervenes between this and the meeting of Congress; if you will subscribe now it will be possible to promptly raise several hundred thousand dollars amongst the people of California, and in that manner secure the progress of the work while a bill is pending before Congress. Let us have a vote then on the Sutro Tunnel. Let those who are in favor of it, and have the means, put down their five dollars, and thus prove their public spirit; let those who are against it, or in with the California Bank refuse it, and let us make a note on it for future reference.
For the Sutro Tunnel Company
Office 76 C Street, Virginia City, Nevada
October 9, 1869
-Carson Daily Appeal, October 13, 1869


We hope the public will excuse us for so frequently alluding to the wild-cat swindle, known as the "Sutro Tunnel," but as a matter in which the people are interested, especially when "every man, woman, and child" in the State are attempted to be swindled out of their money, by false representations as to beneficial results, we feel it out imperative duty to warn people against it-- and this is our excuse for alluding to the subject at all. Against Mr. Sutro personally, we have no ill-will-- none whatever-- but he is engaged in a scheme of wrong-doing, getting money, if possible, from poor people who cannot spare their hard-earned waged for ephemeral experiments in an enterprise which, if prosecuted, would cost millions of dollars.
-Gold Hill Daily News, October 26, 1869

Despite this, Sutro got enough fund to start digging.

The Sutro Tunnel  today is in 1,631 feet. The ground works well, no water in the face of the tunnel but they expect to strike a body daily.
-San Francisco Examiner, November 28, 1870

The Sutro Tunnel  was in yesterday a distance of 2,059 feet. The ground now works well, it is of such a nature to require heavy timbering. A considerable amount of water is coming in at the face of the tunnel.
-San Francisco Examiner, July 5, 1871.

The Sutro Tunnel is in 2,355 feet.
-San Francisco Examiner, August 26, 1871.

It wasn't a bowl of cherries- tunneling is dangerous work.

Yesterday morning, about 3 o'clock, a fearful explosion of giant powder occurred at the shaft house of shaft No. 2 of the Sutro Tunnel, by which that building was torn to pieces, and John Martin, windlass man, was instantly killed. From Mr. Bethel, Superintendent of the Sutro Tunnel works, we have the following particulars in regard to the accident:
John Martin and another man were employed at the windlass of the shaft, but he was the only man on the surface at the time of the explosion, his comrade having gone down the shaft about five minutes before it occurred. When this man descended in the shaft Martin was at a forge engaged in thawing giant powder. Martin being alone, how the explosion occurred can never be exactly know; it is supposed, however, that the explosive material was placed too close to the fire of the forge at which he was at work. The shaft house was not only torn to pieces but the lumber of which it was constructed was broken up. The forge was also blown away to the ground, and a total wreck was made of everything. Martin was found near the building, his head torn to pieces and his body much mutilated. No other person was hurt. Martin was a native of Ireland, and aged 29 years.
[*The Giant Powder Company was an explosives manufacturing company which operated from the mid 19th century through the first half of the 20th century, located in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. The Giant Powder Company was the first company in the United States to produce dynamite under an exclusive license from Alfred Nobel.]
-Daily Evening Herald, Stockton, California, January 27, 1872

Nevertheless, things progressed slowly.

The Sutro tunnel is now in a distance of 2,821 feet-- ground hard.
-Stanislaus County Weekly News, April 12, 1872

The Sutro tunnel was yesterday in a distance of 2,967 feet.
-San Francisco Examiner, July 24, 1872

Why did the Bank of California oppose the Sutro Tunnel, we all wondered.

Under the present system the miners are made to pay the Bank of California an annual profit of $ 4,150,000 , besides losing tailings valued at $ 8,400,000.
After the completion of the Sutro Tunnel the miners will erect their own mills at the mouth of the tunnel , and thus realize these profits themselves .

Why the mining interests couldn't build new mills at Sutro is beyond me. Maybe they just hated the idea of not having 100% of the profits.

Opposition came from places other then a few perturbed letter writers, however.

In his minority report, covering less than two printed pages, Mr, Sargent refers to the Sutro Tunnel fifteen times as “the corporation ” while the Bank of California is spoken of thirteen times as “the miners.” The fact is, that the Sutro Tunnel Company is largely composed of the laboring miners, all of whom warmly support the measure, while the Bank of California is well known to be the most gigantic, unscrupulous, and oppressive corporation within the United States.
-Sutro Tunnel Minority Report, 1873

Ol' Adolph was a tenacious guy, though. Eventually, he prevailed.

[skipping ahead a bit]

It is announced that the Sutro Tunnel has reached a distance of 13,200 feet from the mouth, exactly two and a half miles.
-San Francisco Chronicle, May 31, 1876

The Sutro Tunnel has reached a length of 15, 865 feet, and yesterday struck 15 inches of water.
-Feather River Bulletin, February 10, 1877

Almost there now!

The total length of the Sutro tunnel up to the present time is 18,368 feet, leaving a distance of about 1.630 to run before intersecting with the Comstock.
-Petaluma Weekly Argus, January 11, 1878

Before we go any further, we should mention the unsung heroes of the Sutro Tunnel-- namely, the mules. Here is a story about them that I was too lazy to transcribe.

Might be best not to tell Sutro what he doesn't want to hear, ya think?

Q: What brought you here?
A: I was looking fur something to do, and at that time San Francisco was lively.
Q: Did you get a job soon?
A: Yes ; I went up to Virginia City. Nevada, as assistant engineer on the Sutro tunnel.
Q: Under Adolf Sutro
A: Yes. Wederkind was chief engineer. He was a Dane who had run the lines for the Hoosac tunnel and came out to the Sutro tunnel as engineer several months after I got there.

Q: Do you recall your impressions of the Comstock and Virginia
A: I had a letter of introduction from James D. Hague to Isaac Requa. the father of Mark L. Requa. He was very civil to me and showed me around. I remember being much impressed by the Cornish pump in the old Chollar-Potosi shaft. I met Ross E. Browne there at that time.
Q: Which impressed you most. Ross Browne or the Cornish pump?
A: I think Mr. Browne made the most lasting impression. He worked with me on the tunnel some of the time before Wederkind came out. He has been a good friend of mine ever since. I left there in 1874. Sutro fired me. We had struck a flood of water in shaft No. 2 of the tunnel and were drowned out.
Q: Why were you drowned out?
A: We had to run the pumps so fast that the steam-pipe heated the shaft until it became impossible for men to work. Sutro came to the office, fuming and swearing, whereupon I told him that we had not been 'drowned out' but we had been burned out'. He did not like it, so we parted company. I did not then know that he had put in the steam-pumps against the advice of everybody who understood the subject, because he could buy them for stock in the tunnel company. Ai that time the only kind of pump that would have served our purpose was the Cornish pump. Today, of course, under similar circumstances, we would have used electric pumps. It might be worthwhile, as a matter of record, to mention that while at the tunnel I helped J. B. Pitchford. who was master mechanic, put up the first air-compressor installed in the West. In fact, there had been but two in the whole country before that : one at the Hoosac tunnel and one at a Delaware & Lackawanna railroad tunnel.
-Interviews With Mining Engineers, Arthur De Wint Foote, 1922

OK, so, We did it!

Last night, a quarter before eleven o'clock, the last big blast with cartridges of giant powder broke away the narrow strip of rock which separated the Sutro tunnel from the deep level of the Savage mine, and, befitting the occasion, Mr.
Sutro was himself the first person to pass through from the tunnel into the mine and thence up the shaft to the surface. It was a gigantic undertaking, and from the breaking of the ground, October 19, 1869 ——the anniversary of the surrender
of Cornwallis to Washington, at Yorktown, by- the-way—until now, the vast enterprise has been urged forward under difficulties which all the time developed the indomitable spirit and prodigious resources of its projector in overcoming obstacles that would have appalled almost any other man. He had something more unyielding than nature to meet and conquer—the powerful antagonism of immense wealth combined in solid and obdurate mass to oppose him—which neither dia-
mond drills could penetrate nor giant powder blast from before him. But he has won the brave battle by pluck and push—aided by that chief essential, gold coin. He has driven his tunnel through about 20,000 feet of base rock
from Sutro, in Carson Valley, the entrance point, to the shaft of the Savage, which opens near the peak of Mount Davidson. The total cost of the work is estimated at nearly four millions of dollars. Having now tapped the Comstock lode, Mr. Sutro will doubtless work northward to intersect the bonanza mines, and search the utmost ore limit in that direction. Whether he will also penetrate south to, through and beyond the Chollar-Potosi, is the problem only himself, or his successors, can or will probably solve. The paramount questions of the present, now that his tunnel has struck the opening to the great mining shafts, are: What will he do with it ? and, How will it pay? As it stands, however, it is the prodigy of mining and
engineering enterprises, and has made the name of its projector conspicuous, if not famous. If it shall realize his prophecies and hopes, he need not fear of lack of either fame or fortune. And, in any event, he has demonstrated his ability to
subdue nature and overcome the power of gold to oppose and defeat him. The effect of the tunnel upon the stock market will be an interesting and material matter for dealers as well as share-holders, directors and managers, to take into account.
-San Francisco Examiner, July 9, 1878

The first official trip was described:

Virginia (Nev.) July 10th. There was a grand celebration last night at the town of Sutro over the opening of the Sutro Tunnel. Several of the miners from the Savage went down through the tunnel and joined in the festivities. The reports of the cannon were plainly heard in this city, and the light of the bonfires was reflected from the mountains beyond the Carson river. Mr. Sutro made a speech to a large crowd, several of whom were from Dayton and the surrounding country. His remarks were received with enthusiastic cheers. Beer flowed in abundance and there was general rejoicing. The tunnel miners who did not feel like working to-day were excused until to-morrow.
The first party that ever went from Sutro to Virginia City by way of the tunnel came through today. The following named persons started from Sutro at 4:30 PM and reached the city at 5:45. They were delayed half an hour in the Savage: Adolph Sutro; Joseph Aron, first President of the company; Misses Kate and Clara Sutro; Masters Charles and Edgar Sutro; John Blueett; Peter Savage; Dr. Brierly, F. S. Young, H. H. Sargent and F. B. Mercer. They found all the foul gases out of the tunnel, and the temperature low until the Savage was reached.
-Sacramento Daily Union, July 11, 1878

Other uses were found for the tunnel as well, like food delivery durng a harsh winter.

When Virginia City ran short of potatoes eight tons were sent from the ranches near Dayton through the Sutro Tunnel and hoisted up the C. & C. shaft. Thus the Comstockers were supplied with an abundance of spuds during the blockade.
-The Daily Appeal, February 11, 1890

Or maybe we can use it to store gas! Yes! A million cubic feet of natural gas under Virginia City! What could go wrong?

Sierra Pacific Power Co. engineers and geologists are checking Sutro Tunnel, built to carry hot water away from Comstock Lode mines, as a possible reservoir for gas. A power shovel is at work at the tunnel mouth, northeast of Dayton, clearing away debris to permit drainage of accumulated water. Engineers estimate the volume of the tunnel is around 1,000,000 cubic feet, but its gas storage capacity is undetermined since the gas is stored under pressure.
-Reno Evening Gazette, September 7, 1961

Like all the holes in Nevada, it's dangerous to play around them and especially dangerous if they're over a hundred years old.

Boy Trapped In Air Shaft Is Rescued
A 12 year old Reno boy was rescued tonight from a crumbling air shaft leading down into the famed Sutro Tunnel in Virginia City's pioneer silver diggings. Authorities said young Larry Dacket plummeted 45 feet down the vertical shaft while exploring the once fabulous Comstock Lode with two older boys. Larry fell into the shaft early in the morning when a rope broke. Authorities were not notified until afternoon. Food was lowered to Larry, who shouted that he had a broken ankle. -Evening Star, Washington, D.C. January 8, 1961

In 1979, Houston Oil thought they would open up the tunnel and mine all the silver and gold richness they imagined still lay waiting under Virginia City. But after this news story, there was no other mentions of these efforts, so I imagine things didn't pan out.

Now after lying dormant for nearly 40 years, there has been a surge of mining activity in several of Virginia City's most famous glory holes. A Texas-based company-- Houston Oil and Minerals-- is spending millions to revive the Comstock lode and has four major projects under way: The four-mile-long Adolph Sutro Tunnel-- one of the engineering marvels of the 19th century, dug at a cost of $5 million over a period of nine years and completed in 1878-- is being shored up and restored.

It is expected to be functional again by this time next spring. "We're mucking out the Sutro, not for all the reasons it was used in the old days," Tom Kelly, the project's mining engineer explained. "We're in there because there re indications from old records there is a virgin pocket of the Comstock vein that hasn't been worked about two miles inside the tunnel.
-Sacramento Bee, May 15, 1979

The Town

Sutro's dream of a town of 50,000 never panned out.

Early in December 1880, it was announced that the Sutro Independent had suspended publication. The population of the town of Sutro had dwindled to 375.
-Nevada State Journal, November 29, 1930

Charles Sutro and Dr. Emma Merritt of San Francisco, son and daughter of the late Adollf Sutro on the Comstock, were recent visitors to this city. They made an automobile trip to Dayton, the old town of Sutro at the portal of the tunnel, and VIrginia City.
-Nevada State Journal, October 14, 1932

Standing out as the Comstock's greates engineering achivement is the Sutro Tunnel. WIth its laterals, it is nine miles in length and tapes the lode at a depth of 1,650 feet, providing drainage and transportation facilities. The great bore was started October 19, 1869, and on July 8, 1878 connection was made with the Savage mine worings. Two years later, the north and south laterals were completed, linking all the mines up and down the lode. The portal of the tunnel is four miles directly easy of Virigina City, located at the now nearly depopulated town of Sutro. The Sutro Tunnel is now owned by the Constock Tunnel and Drainage Co., controlled by the Leonard interests, and is maintained in excellent operating condition.
-Nevada State Journal, August 26, 1935

Things came to an inglorius end for the town of Sutro with the burning of the Sutro Mansion.

Only remaining dwelling in the old town of Sutro, and closely connected with one of the most dramatic human features in the history of the Comstock, the famous Sutro mansion was razed by fire last night, and today only a part of one corner remained of the ornate dwelling Adolph Sutro constructed in 1879. Sparks from a chimney set fire to the three story structure abut 7:30 last night. Light from the blaze roused Albert West and his wife from their beds to summon help from the Virginia City fire department and the firemen from Carson and Dayton. The Wests and their three children were the only occupants, and while the fire blazed brightly, they and others vainly tried to save some of the priceless old pieces of furniture with which the mansion was filled. They only succeeded in recovering twentychairs and sofas and thousands of dollars worth of relices were lost. Valuable papers and books which formerly were kept in the mansion had been given to museums from time to time. Loss was estimated at $60,000 by Frank Leaonard of the Sutro Tunnel Coalition, who said all of it was coverd by insurance. Streams of water proved inneffective as the flames raced through the dry walls, and the blaze raged for three hours, atracting a large crowd. Build at a cost of $60,000, the Sutro mansion ranked with the other homes of the bonanza kings and had been visited by thousands of sightseers throug the years. Not the least famous of them was General Ulusses S. Grant, who ate an elaborate breakfast presided over by Mrs. Sutro, prepatory to being drawn through the tunnel on a mine car, this was when the former President and his party made a visit to Nevada and thoughoughly toured the Comstock. Adolph Sutro built his mansion of the finest materials and place in it the finest furniture obtainable in that day. He had just completed his famous tunnel, a project started in 1872, amid bitter controversy, and competed it in 1878. Wealthy, he put a marble fireplace in every room. His mansion had a two-story veranda and was ornate in every detail. The first floor included offices, bedrooms, a large dining room, kitchen, pantry, and store room. A broad winding staircase led to the second floor, which contained three large parlors, a dressing room, and two bedrooms. There were six bedrooms and a storage space in the third story, while the attic contained a water tank-- which was empty that night. Sutro did not long remain on the Comstock to enjoy his mansion. A few months after the home was completed, he sold his holdings and moved to San Francisco.
-Reno Evening Gazette, November 22, 1941

Back in 1955, Richard Dillon visited

We followed a good dirt road marked by a wooden, arrow-shaped sign pointing the way to the site of Sutro, Nevada. Here, at the mouth of the tunnel, a few wooden shacks stand in an oasis of cottonwoods beside a long dike of mine tailings. The buildings were posted, but our guide book assured us that visitors were welcome at the tunnel, and we disregarded the "Keep Out" signs. Sutro townsite is almost a ghost town. One or two families may still live in the buildings which remain
where Sutro ventured to prophesy that "a large city will spring into existence. Five years hence," he wrote in 1873, "we shall see perhaps 50,000 people gathered near its mouth." The old tunnel entrance had been freshly painted white, and an ore car waited on the rails leading in. The entrance is barred with a padlocked grill-gate to prohibit interior investigation. There is still a trickle of water in the ditch where, in 1880, almost 3-500,000 gallons a day were discharged.
Some Nevadans of the 1860s proposed a dam at the tunnel mouth, but Sutro did not think it would be profitable. He did plan to use water-power from the 155-foot fall from the tunnel to the Carson, however.
-"Adolph Sutro's Coyote Hole" Desert Magazine March 1955

Fire continued to pester the town.

Mill, Shed Destroyed in Sutro Fire
A fire at the historic townsite of Sutro, east of Carson City, Sunday night destroyed an old stamp mill and an adjacent shed, and spread through over an acre of brush and dead cottonwood trees. A fire department spokesman said a shortage of water at the site hampered firefighters and it was expected it would be late today before the blaze was struck out.
Reno Evening Gazette, May 22, 1967

The Man

Born in 1830 in Prussia (today North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany), Sutro was the oldest of eleven children. The Prussian rebellion in 1848 caused the family to leave for America in 1850 and settle in Baltimore. Soon after, Adolph left for California and arrived in San Francisco on November 21, 1851. Adolph held a number of positions in San Francisco and eventually owned several tobacco shops. In 1860, Sutro left San Francisco for Virginia City, Nevada, after silver was found in Comstock Lode with plans to continue selling cigars. He soon devised a concept for a tunnel to drain water from the mines and eliminate the threat of flooding. This concept become the Sutro Tunnel. After the Tunnel was complete, in 1879 he left Nevada for San Francisco, where he became an entrepreneur and public figure. He made land investments including Mount Sutro, Land's End, and Mount Davidson. Sutro opened his own estate to the public and was heralded as a populist for various astute acts of public generosity, such as opening an aquarium and an elaborate and beautiful, glass-enclosed entertainment complex called Sutro Baths in the Sutro District. He successfully ran for Mayor of San Francisco in 1894, but he wasn't a very good one. He died in 1898.


POST OFFICE March 25, 1872 - October 30, 1920
NEWSPAPER Sutro Independent

We enjoyed a private tour of the entire site. While much of Sutro has been lost to fire, destruction, and simply being moved away, the Friends of Sutro Tunnel have done a remarkable job gathering artifacts, stabilizong and improving the remaining structures, and planning on improving the caved-in Tunnel and creating a visitable historic site. While it never really accomplished what Sutro hoped it would, it's still an amazing feat of math and engineering, and the docents supplied many amazing facts and stories regarding the Tunnel, the town, and the site. You owe it to yourself to give it a tour and give them your support.

Be advised that this is private property, so don't be thinking you're going to go wander up there and not incur the wrather of the on-site security guards.

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