Adolph Sutro arrived on the Comstock Lode about 1860, and in the years prior to proposing his infamous tunnel operated a quartz mill along the Carson River. The Sutro Mill, with ten stamps, was erected in 1861 near Dayton and was destroyed by fire in 1863. Claims were made that the fire was deliberately set in order to collect insurance money, but these claims were never proven and Sutro was never indicted. Around this time Sutro concocted the idea of a long tunnel below the mines at Virginia City, which would serve the dual purpose of providing both drainage and ventilation. He proposed his idea to the state legislature in 1864, and in 1865 secured a franchise to build and operate the tunnel for 50 years. He also worked out a contract with mine owners that would be connected to the tunnel, that his Sutro Tunnel Co. should receive $2 for each ton removed by way of the tunnel. At first, he also had support from the Bank of California, but it soon turned against him in an attempt to gain control and collect the profits.

Sutro Tunnel

Despite the opposition from not only the bank, but also powerful mine owners, work finally commenced on Sutro Tunnel in October 1869, and a small work camp emerged at the mouth the following year. In 1872, Sutro laid out a model city below the tunnel, which he expected to eclipse Virginia City after the tunnel was completed, with miners and mills relocating to the new city. The town quickly grew as work progressed on the tunnel, reaching a peak population of between 6-and-800 in 1876. It boasted a school, church, weekly newspaper - the Sutro Independent - and a few other businesses, all overlooked by Sutro's own fine Victorian mansion. The town even had a hospital, made necessary by the number of incidents during construction.

The tunnel finally connected to the Savage mine in July 1878, and within the next year was completed in its entirety. Unfortunately, many of the mines by this time had reached depths lower than the tunnel, rendering it useless for drainage at the lowest levels. In addition, most high grade ore had already been extracted from the Comstock Lode, leading to its decline. This combination of poor timing and circumstances made the four mile Sutro Tunnel both an engineering marvel and a financial failure. Mr. Sutro sold off all of his interests in 1879, and returned to San Francisco where he invested his profits in real estate and would later serve as mayor; even today the Sutro name is prominent in many San Francisco landmarks.

After Sutro Tunnel was completed, the town of Sutro gradually faded. 435 residents remained in 1880, but most moved on by the turn of the century. Despite its shortcomings, the tunnel did see use for about fifty years, and a 10-stamp mill was constructed near its mouth in 1900 and used for at least a decade. Unfortunately, both the Victorian mansion on the hill and mill were lost to fire in 1941 and 1967, respectively. In subsequent decades, the Sutro Tunnel and remaining buildings were largely blocked from the public, but in recent years the Friends of Sutro Tunnel has acquired the site and undertaken the massive project of reopening the tunnel, which had collapsed after being disused. Tours of the site are available, and work is ongoing to preserve, stabilize, and restoring the famed Sutro Tunnel and outbuildings. Information about tours and more about the Friends of Sutro Tunnel can be found here.

The Comstock Lode
Virginia CityMines & MillsSix Mile Canyon
Gold HillYellow Jacket MineAmerican Flat
Silver CityMillsDaytonRock Point MillSutro
Daney MineCarson River Canyon MillsEureka Mill