Dennis Cassinelli: Adolph Sutro’s famous tunnel

When I was a student at the University of Nevada in the early 1960s, I often spent my weekends exploring the ruins of the Comstock and surrounding areas. On one of these excursions, I paid a visit to the old townsite of Sutro to see the tunnel and explore what was left of the old town. At that time, there was not a single person anywhere around the site, so I had a chance to check out things undisturbed.

I was unable to enter the tunnel, since there was a heavy gate at the entrance, but I could see inside and the way was further blocked by piled up soil. There was a small stream of water exiting the tunnel and forming a small creek down the hill outside the tunnel portal.

I then turned my attention to the then-still standing stamp mill that was the largest building at the site. I climbed in and around the old mill and examined the bank of stamps that had once processed the ores that were brought out through the Sutro tunnel from the Comstock mines. Remember, I was young and foolish in those days, and I do not suggest anyone go poking around private property today to explore any of the remaining old buildings. Not only are the ruins dangerous to explore, but you may acquire a dose of lead poisoning from an irate property owner.

Adolph Sutro first made an appearance on the Comstock in March 1860. While in Virginia City, he came up with the idea to construct a tunnel that would theoretically drain the water from the deep mines that were developing along the face of the Comstock Lode. Sutro developed and operated an ore mill in nearby Dayton. He continued to push for the idea of a tunnel and obtained a legislative mandate for his Sutro Tunnel Company to excavate a nearly four mile tunnel from near Dayton to connect to the deep mines of the Comstock.

More recently, I was contacted by some old friends of mine, Daniel Webster and Kit Weaver, who are members of a group dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the old town of Sutro and the Sutro Tunnel. Kit Weaver took me on a private tour of the town and tunnel and told me he had enjoyed my historic articles in the local paper. He then asked if I would be interested in becoming a member of the Friends of Sutro Tunnel group. Being a historian and writer, I accepted his suggestion and agreed to become the Publicist for the organization, Friends of Sutro Tunnel.

I then got to thinking about the potential of the effort to preserve and restore the old town of Sutro and eventually make the tunnel safe again for people to actually enter and see this amazing engineering accomplishment, now one hundred fifty years old. I can remember once visiting the old mining town of Bodie, which is now a California State Park. When Sutro is preserved, protected and the tunnel once again made safe, just imagine how many people would want to visit the site.

Years ago, Dayton and Sutro were served by two railroads, the Dayton, Sutro and Carson Valley Railroad and the Carson and Colorado Railroad. The towns of Dayton and Sutro have an incredible history including one of Nevada’s best preserved Pony Express Stations, old Downtown Dayton, and the Carson and Colorado Railroad Depot. A section of the California Trail passed through town and Dayton is the site of the first gold discovery in Nevada. The Dayton Museum is at the old schoolhouse where my Grandfather and several siblings went to school. There is a fine Nevada State park that includes camping, a picnic area and the ruins of the Rock Point mill. All these things combined could make the area a natural tourist attraction if properly developed.

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli who can be contacted on his blog at All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.


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