Sutro Tunnel Company Records

Identifier: NC07

Scope and Contents

As noted in the book, Adolph Sutro, A Biography by Robert E. Stewart, Jr. and M.F. Stewart (Howell-North, 1962), Adolph Sutro saved everything connected with his business and personal life. The Stewarts note the locations of the larger collections of Sutro papers and mention the scattering of a great deal of other material. The collection of Sutro papers held by the Special Collections Department is one such scattering.

These records document in part, the organizing, publicizing, funding, and construction of the Sutro Tunnel. The earliest items in the collection are a deed (1861) for the Silver Lode mining claim which Sutro purchased from Stillman and Katherine Wilson, and a copy of the Nevada Legislature's 1865 act granting Sutro a franchise to construct a mining and drainage tunnel. Articles of agreement illustrate how Sutro funded construction of the project and negotiated with Comstock Lode mining companies for tunnel use fees. These documents form Series 1, Legal Documents.

Series 2 consists of correspondence, the bulk of which is from the secretary of the Sutro Tunnel Company to Adolph Sutro, reporting on progress of the tunnel and various business matters. There is also some miscellaneous correspondence and a letterpress copy book of requisitions.

Series 3, Reports, contains several significant documents, particularly a manuscript report on the cost of running branch tunnels [from the main Sutro Tunnel], 1866; and a draft report (perhaps in Sutro's hand) of the House Committee on Mines and Mining on the Sutro Tunnel, 1868. Two letterpress copy books offer a daily record of underground work between 1881-1883, and superintendent's reports from 1885-1886.

Many of the printed reports which remain with the manuscript collection illustrate Sutro's use of the print media to persuade Congress and the public to support his project. These and assorted clippings form Series 5, Printed Materials.


  • 1861-1935


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Administrative History

The Sutro Tunnel Company was organized by Adolph Sutro for the purpose of constructing a drainage tunnel under the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada. Sutro's initial associates in this enterprise were William M. Stewart, D. E. Avery, Louis Janin, Jr., and H. K. Mitchell. On February 4, 1865 the Nevada legislature granted the company an exclusive franchise to construct a drainage tunnel beginning in the foothills of the Carson River Valley in Lyon County, and terminating in the Comstock Lode of Virginia City. The Sutro Tunnel Company was also given a charter to sink mining shafts along the line as long as they did not infringe upon the rights of miners with previous claims.

The U.S. Congress granted the Sutro Tunnel Company an exclusive charter on July 25, 1866. The charter gave Sutro the right to purchase public land at $1.25 per acre to use for construction of the tunnel, and $5.00 per acre for land within 2,000 feet of the tunnel which contained mineral veins and lodes. It also specified that all persons, companies or corporations owning claims benefitted by the tunnel would be required to contribute to the costs of its operation.

Sutro encountered considerable difficulty in raising the capital necessary for construction. The sale of stock in the Sutro Tunnel Company enabled construction to begin in 1869 but he was eventually forced to turn to England where, beginning in 1872, he obtained major financing from the banking house of McCalmont Brothers and Company. The tunnel connected with the Savage Mine in 1878. Contracts which helped pay for lateral tunnels were signed with twenty-four mining companies in April of the following year. Two months later the tunnel project was completed, and by 1880, Sutro had sold his stock in the company.

The tunnel was in use for fifty years and was a success as a means of draining hot water from the mines. Financially it was a loss, as stock became worthless with the decline of Comstock Lode. Portions of the tunnel are still intact today.


1.5 Linear Feet (3 boxes, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



The Sutro Tunnel Company was organized by Adolph Sutro for the purpose of constructing a drainage tunnel under the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada. Records related to organizing, publicizing, funding and constructing the Sutro Tunnel.,Included are transcripts of a court case; correspondence, which consist of letters and construction reports from company secretary Pelham W. Ames to Sutro; deeds; superintendents' reports; speeches; prospectus; certificate of incorporation and by-laws; financial agreements with the McCalmont Brothers & Company of London; agreements with the Mexican Mining Company and others to pay assessments; clippings about Sutro, his daughter Dr. Emma Sutro Merritt, his library, and Ella Sterling Clark Mighels' poetry; and photographs and lithographs of tunnel scenes (1861-1935).


Arranged into the following series: 1) Legal Documents; 2) Correspondence; 3) Reports; 4) Financial Records; 5) Printed Materials and Miscellaneous; 6) Photographs and Lithographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired over a period of years, beginning with a gift from Robert B. Griffith in 1964, and continuing with purchases from a number of book dealers and a Butterfield and Butterfield auction in June 1993.

Related Materials

Sutro Tunnel Printed Materials in the Special Collections Department Book Stacks:

Aron, Joseph. History of a Great Work (Proceeded by a Letter to the Union Trust Co. of New York) and of an Honest Miner. Paris: E. Regnault, printer, 1892. TN413.N3 A76

Banks, Nathan P. Speeches of the Hon. Nath. P. Banks... on the Sutro Tunnel, Delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States of America, February 13 and 21, 1873. Washington: McGill and Witherow, 1873. TN413.N3 A5 1873

Black, Jeremiah Sullivan. The California Bank Ring Against the Sutro Tunnel. Washington: 1874. TN413.N3 B5

Comstock Tunnel Company. The Comstock Tunnel Company to Union Trust Company of New York. Mortgage. Sept. 1, 1889. New York: Evening Post, 1889. HD9536.U54 C6

Hillyer, Curtis J. Argument for Comstock Mining Companies [against Senate Bill no. 16 granting certain rights, privileges and franchises to the Sutro Tunnel Company]. Washington?: 1874. TN413.N3 H5

Nevada. Legislature. Joint Memorial and Resolutions of the Nevada Legislature, Asking Government Aid in the Construction of the Sutro Tunnel. San Francisco: Towne & Bacon, 1867. TN413.N3 Z7 1867

Nye, James Warren. Speech of Hon. James W. Nye, of Nevada, on the Sutro Tunnel; Delivered in the Senate of the United States, January 20, 1871. Washington: F. & J. Rives & Geo. A. Bailey, 1871. TN413.N3 N9

---La Question de Demain. Revue Mensuelle du Progres. "Important Notice to the Stockholders of the Comstock Tunnel Company." No. 3 [April 5, 1894]. American Edition. [Listed in card catalog as no. 1, February 1894.] TN413.N3 Q4

Sunderland, Thomas. The Sutro Tunnel Co. What Congress Has Given it and What More it Asks Congress to Give it. Hear Both Sides. Washington: Judd and Detweiler, 1871. TN413.N3 Z7 1871

Sutro, Adolph. The Advantages and Necessity of a Deep Drain Tunnel, for the Great Comstock Ledge. San Francisco: 1865. Also, Substitute for H.R. 1173. As Agreed on by the Committee on Mines and Mining. A Bill to Aid in the Construction of the Sutro Tunnel from the Proceeds of the Sale of Mineral Lands. 1866. TN413.N3 S88

Sutro, Adolph. The Bank of California against the Sutro Tunnel. Argument and Statement of Facts, Showing Why the Amendments to Senate Bill 16,...Should be Concurred in by the Senate. Washington: M'Gill Witherow, 1874. TN413.N3 S89

Sutro, Adolph. The Bank of California Versus the Sutro Tunnel. Also, "Extract from a Speech of Adolph Sutro to the Miners of Nevada on the Sutro Tunnel and Bank of California." March 17, 1870. TN413.N3 S9

Sutro, Adolph. The California Monopolists Against the Sutro Tunnel. $200,000 Raised for Corrupt Purposes. March 19, 1874. TN413.N3 S92

Sutro, Adolph. Closing Argument of Adolph Sutro, on the Bill Before Congress to Aid the Sutro Tunnel, Delivered before the Committee on Mines and Mining of the House of Representatives of the United States of America, Monday, April 22, 1872. Washington: McGill and Witherow, 1872. TN413.N3 Z7 1872c

Sutro, Adolph. The Mineral Resources of the United States, and the Importance and Necessity of Inaugurating a National System of Mining, with Special Reference to the Comstock Lode and the Sutro Tunnel, in Nevada. Baltimore: John Murphy and Co., 1868. TN413.N3 S95

Sutro, Adolph. The Sutro Tunnel. An Address Before the Bullion Club, November 6, 1879. New York: Atkin and Prout, 1879. TN413.N3 S96

Sutro, Adolph. The Sutro Tunnel and Railway to the Comstock Lode in the State of Nevada. Importance of Its Construction and Revenue to be Derived Therefrom. London: Edward Stanford, 1873. TN413.N3 S97

Sutro, Adolph. The Sutro Tunnel to the Comstock Lode in the State of Nevada. Importance of its Construction, and Revenue to be Derived Therefrom. New York: John A. Gray and Green, 1866. TN413.N3 S98

Sutro, Adolph. Why Does the Bank of California Oppose the Sutro Tunnel? The Mystery Explained. Washington: M'Gill & Witherow, 1873. TN413.N3 S9752 1873

Sutro Tunnel Company. Agreements of March 29, 1879 Between the Sutro Tunnel Company and Twenty-four Comstock Mining Companies. San Francisco: Bacon and Company, Printers, 1879. TN413.N3 A3 1879

Sutro Tunnel Company. Annual Report of the Sutro Tunnel Company. San Francisco: Women's Co-Operative Printing Office, 1881. TN413.N3 A31 1880/81

Sutro Tunnel Company. The Answer of the Sutro Tunnel Company to the Complaint of Divers Companies Working Mines on the Comstock Lode; to Which is Attached a Copy of the Complaint, Exhibits, and an Appendix. Washington City: McGill and Witherow, Printers, 1876. TN413.N3 A3 1876

Sutro Tunnel Company. Report of the Superintendent of the Sutro Tunnel Company for the Three Months Preceding March 1, 1872. Washington: McGill & Witherow, 1872. TN413.N3 A123 1872

Sutro Tunnel Company. The Sutro Tunnel in Congress. [San Francisco: 1870?]. TN413.N3 Z7 1870

U.S. General Land Office. The Comstock Companies Defy the Execution of a Law of Congress. Extracts from the records on file in the General Land Office, certified to by the Commissioner. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1874. TN413.N3 U5

U.S. Sutro Tunnel Commission. Report of the Commissioners and Evidence Taken by the Committee on Mines and Mining of the House of Representatives of the United States, in Regard to the Sutro Tunnel, Together with the Arguments, etc. Washington: Government printing office, 1872. TN413.N3 Z7 1872

Separated Materials

Photograph and lithographs depicting the Sutro Tunnel and its construction have been transferred to the Special Collections Photo Archive as collection number UNRS-P1988-30.

A considerable number of printed reports have been previously placed in the book stacks of the Special Collections Department. They are listed under the related materials note.


Guide to the Sutro Tunnel Company Records
Susan Searcy
October 1993
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)