Sutro Tunnel

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Sutro Tunnel
Sutro Tunnel.jpg
The entrance to the Sutro Tunnel in the late 1800s
Reference no.85[1]

The Sutro Tunnel is a drainage tunnel (adit) connected to the Comstock Lode in Northern Nevada. It begins near Dayton, Nevada and ends approximately 3.88 miles northwest, connecting to the Savage Mine in Virginia City, Nevada.

The tunnel was proposed by Adolph Sutro, a Prussian Jewish mining entrepreneur, in 1860.[2] He promoted the drainage tunnel to allow access to deeper mineral exploration in the Comstock. Flooding and inadequate pumps had inhibited some exploration until that time.

By 1865, Sutro's idea had gained the approval of state and federal legislation. The mining interests of the Comstock initially supported the project, but later opposed the idea. They feared that an alternate access point to the Comstock minerals would threaten their monopoly on the mining and milling of gold and silver in the Comstock.

Nonetheless, Sutro formed the Sutro Tunnel Company, selling stock certificates to raise funds for its construction, which began in 1869. Financing also came from local miners motivated by the prospect of improved mine safety. This motivation was further advocated (perhaps exploited) by Sutro after the Yellowjacket mine disaster where dozens of miners were burned to death because they could not escape.

Arthur De Wint Foote worked on the tunnel in 1873, but was fired in 1874, having struck a flood of water in Shaft No. 2.[3]

The State of Nevada complimenting Adolph Sutro on the Success of the Sutro tunnel 15 years after his death [4]

The tunnel was successfully connected to the Savage Mine on July 8, 1878 and continued to the other mines both north and south.[5] The full dimensions of the Adit were 10 feet high x 12 feet wide at 3.88 miles to the Savage mine and the north and south branches totaling 3,600 feet making the combined length a total of 4.56 miles. By June 30, 1879 contracts had been completed with all connecting mines. In late 1879 Adolph Sutro had sold off his remaining shares in the company to move to San Francisco. The Dictionary of American Biography, says that "the tunnel proved immediately and immensely profitable.” But due to mismanagement by the new firms and shareholders the stock became worthless. The tunnel stayed operational until the 1940s and was closed due to WWII. Many of the items in the mines and mills across the country were scrapped for the war effort. People began moving to the tunnel site in the 1960s, there are many stories of their exploits.

Adolph Sutro moved to San Francisco, later becoming mayor, building the Sutro Baths and a small Sutro Tunnel to them.

The Sutro Tunnel pioneered the excavation of large drainage and access tunnels in the US. Later US mine drainage tunnels included the Argo Tunnel at Idaho Springs, Colorado, the Leadville and Yak tunnels at Leadville, Colorado, and the Roosevelt tunnel in the Cripple Creek district, Colorado.

Sutro Tunnel portal in October of 2021

The "Friends of Sutro Tunnel" are working to preserve this significant part of Nevada's mining history by restoring the Sutro Tunnel Site.  The goal of the project is to not only preserve the site's historical integrity, but to also make it safe and accessible for visitors.  Phase One of the project is currently underway with the focus being on ongoing site cleanup and protecting remaining structures from further deterioration.[6]

Popular Culture[edit]

Mark Twain references the tunnel in Roughing It.[7]


  1. ^ "Nevada Historical Markers". Nevada State Historic Preservation Office. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
  2. ^ Smith, Grant Horace; Tingley, Joseph V. (July 21, 1998). The History of the Comstock Lode, 1850-1997. University of Nevada Press. pp. 107–115. ISBN 9781888035049.
  3. ^ Rickard, Thomas Arthur (1992). Interviews with Mining Engineers. San Francisco: Mining and Scientific Press. p. 172. OCLC 2664362. Arthur De Wint Foote.
  4. ^ "1913 Statutes of Nevada, Pages 581-591". Retrieved January 11, 2022.
  5. ^ "Daylight through the Sutro Tunnel". The Daily Examiner. San Francisco. July 9, 1878. p. 2. Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  6. ^ Buckley, Chris (October 24, 2019). "Restoration Efforts Underway at Sutro Tunnel Site in Dayton". KTVN. Retrieved September 19, 2021.
  7. ^ Twain, Mark (1994). Roughing It. Pleasantville: The reader's Digest Association, Inc. p. 255. ISBN 0895776286.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 39°16′48.39″N 119°35′3.6″W / 39.2801083°N 119.584333°W / 39.2801083; -119.584333

Preceded by Nevada Historical Markers
Succeeded by