Group working to restore historic town where the Sutro Tunnel ends
IF YOU GO
The dinner will be held at the Plaza Events Center, 211 E. 9th Street in Carson City on Oct. 18. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. with dinner at 6:30.
The cost is $100 for the dinner but a $1,000 donation will get a commemorative coin made of Comstock silver honoring the 150th anniversary of the beginning of tunnel construction and $5,000 will get a vintage Comstock Drainage Company stock certificate.
A group of history buffs has formed the Friends of Sutro Tunnel to restore the abandoned and deteriorating remains of the town of Sutro at the base of the historic Comstock tunnel.
“We’re restoring the buildings and grounds, not the tunnel,” said Kit Carson Weaver, former Carson City assessor who is one of the principals in the group. “The tunnel is far too dangerous to allow anyone in there for a tour.”
They have a lease agreement with the owners of the property and are working daily to clear away brush and begin to restore the wooden buildings that are in various states of disrepair.
But Weaver said it’s costly to do restoration work so the group has scheduled a fund raising dinner Oct. 18, a week from Friday, to try to raise some money for the work.
But as much as they need money, they also need skilled volunteers, said Pam Abercrombie, a member of the Friends committee.
She called on, “masons, plumbers, electricians, professional landscapers, equipment operators, contractors and engineers” to contact the group if they’re interested in getting involved.
She said the goal is to “preserve and restore this important piece of property.”
But she invited others with maybe less specific skills to join in as well as those with a passion for Nevada’s mining history.
Construction of the tunnel began Oct. 19, 1869, by Adolph Sutro. It was designed to drain up to 4 million gallons of water from the Comstock mines every day. It was completed in July 1878 but Weaver says it never really drained more than 2 million gallons of water in a day.
He said it’s 3.78 miles long from the Savage Mine to Dayton. Every half-mile or so, they drilled a vertical shaft down to the tunnel to provide access for tunnel workers and built a boarding house at the top of the shafts.
He said the tunnel itself is impossibly dangerous and closed to visitors by an iron grating. Even without that locked gate, a person couldn’t get more than about 20 feet inside. That’s where the most recent collapse occurred, blocking further access.
Weaver said there’s another ceiling collapse less than a quarter mile in followed by a wall holding the water back.
There is still a small but steady flow of water coming out of the tunnel.
At the base of the tunnel was the small town of Sutro that the Friends of Sutro Tunnel is trying to restore. There is still a handful of buildings there including the machine shop, a mule barn, what used to be a restaurant and bar and a few houses including a large Victorian residence. There is also a large amount of old equipment including ore carts. To protect the equipment and buildings from further looting, the group has a caretaker living on the 28-acre site.
Until the 1970s, Weaver said there was also a mill at the town site. Because of that, he said an environmental study is under way to determine the extent of any contamination that needs to be cleaned up.
“Hopefully we can mitigate it,” he said.
In addition, they want to restore the entrance to the tunnel and truly turn it into a historical site for visitors to learn about mining in the Comstock era.
The property is owned by the Sutro Tunnel Co., and Weaver said they are in negotiations with the owners.
But, in the meantime, he said they are hard at work cleaning up the town site.
Weaver said the tunnel never really did what Sutro wanted it to and never became the moneymaker he envisioned. But he said it was a godsend in the harsh winter of 1889 when people were unable to get to Virginia City. They used the tunnel to send food and other supplies to the Comstock, loading everything into ore carts then hoisting it up the vertical shafts to Virginia City.
Sutro quickly lost interest in the tunnel.
“I think he got bored,” Weaver said. “His partners sued him in 1878 and put him on a $1,000 a month allowance. A year after it was finished, he went back to New York and sold all his stock, about $1 million worth and estimated $100 million today.”
After that, Sutro moved to San Francisco and became a successful realtor and, eventually, mayor of that city.
Abercrombie said they are making major strides toward saving the historic site but that more help is needed.
Weaver agreed: “Due to the significance of this historic site, it is critically important we share our mission and the story of the Sutro Tunnel with other passionate Nevadans.”
Friends of Sutro Tunnel volunteer Jill Stockton contributed to this story.