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Group Hopes To Restore A Piece Of Nevada's Mining History

sutro_tunnel.jpg
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The 19th Century silver rush in Northern Nevada drew thousands of people to the region and gave the state its nickname.

It was also a time of impressive feats of engineering as the promise of riches drove people to dig as much as silver as they could, as quickly as possible.

The Sutro Tunnel in Dayton is one of the most impressive – and least well-recognized – monuments to the state’s mining history.

A new group of Nevadans called Friends of Sutro Tunnel are raising money to help restore the 28-acre site around the mouth of the tunnel, which was capable of draining up to four million gallons of water from the Comstock mines every day.

Pam Abercrombie is a committee member of Friends of Sutro Tunnel. She told KNPR's State of Nevada the problem was as miners dug deeper into the Comstock mines they found more and more water. In addition, there was a problem with ventilation and hot temperatures inside the mines.

Adolph Sutro came up with the idea of building a tunnel to connect the mines and drain the water, instead of using expensive pumps.

However, not everyone thought it was a good idea. The mine owners rejected the plan. 

It took several years, but after the tragic Yellow Jacket Mine fire that took the lives of 35 miners because there was no escape route, Sutro gained the support of the miners' union. He also went to Congress and secured money for it.

Abercrombie said the tunnel runs three-point-eight miles from the Savage Mine to the Comstock Mines. And while it did drain millions of gallons of water from mines, by the time it was finished, the ore had been mostly mined out.

Sutro sold the tunnel for $5 million. It cost $6.5 million to build, which is about $77 million in today's dollars.

Now, Abercrombie and her group would like to raise money to restore the buildings at the mouth of the tunnel. 

“Comstock Lode had some of the most fantastic engineering feats probably in the whole western United States history. And the digging of this three-point-eight-mile tunnel is a huge engineering feat,” she said, “It’s just a magnificent piece of history. It’s been something that’s been kind of hidden as well and there is a lot of people who covet this property.”

There are six buildings that are still standing, including warehouses and a loading dock. Abercrombie pointed out that preservation costs a lot of money, but $300,000 to $400,000 would go a long way to fixing up the area.

The tunnel itself has collapsed in several places and would be very difficult to repair.

 

Pam Abercrombie, committee member, Friends of Sutro Tunnel.

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.