Silver State Sights: The Sutro Tunnel

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DAYTON, Nev. (KOLO) It’s not too hard to find the name Sutro in the city of Reno.

That is because of Adolph Sutro – who, among his many accomplishments, is also responsible for one the most ambitious feats of engineering in Nevada mining history.

With the discovery of the Comstock Lode, the 1860s brought a silver rush to the Virginia range. The mines to reach the ore, went deep under Virginia City. The deeper they were, the more water there was, and that resulted in more flooding and other problems.

It was Sutro who conceived the idea of running a drain tunnel under the Comstock Lode from the lowest possible point under the city to an exit point near Dayton.

It’s a bittersweet story,“ said Patrick Neylan, the museum curator at the Historical Society of Dayton Valley.

“The tunnel began in 1868; had it been done at the time he anticipated it would have been done right in the middle of the big bonanza in 1873 or '74.”

The problem was, the tunnel was not done by that point. It didn’t get finished until 1878, when the Comstock Lode was already on the decline, but it was still used for decades to come.

“It was used all the way up to World War 2, but not like they anticipated,” Neylan explained. “It was capable of handling in excess of up to 4 million gallons of water every 24 hours.”

That drainage is really all that is still happening in the tunnel – which is now completely collapsed.

Outside the tunnel there are several buildings still up, including a mule barn, for the animals that pulled carts out of the mine. And those ore carts are outside the tunnel, still on their tracks nearly 150 years later.