A book written in 1879 details the story of the great tunnels of Prospect Mountain in the Eureka mining district of that day.
Lambert Molinelli, the author and real estate agent, touted Eureka as, “the second most important town in Nevada, (second of course to Virginia City), and its many virtues: the most prosperous mines in the state, telegraph, stagecoach, railroad service, handsome new buildings and plenty of water.”
Regarding Prospect Mountain, Molinelli tells that “there are many mines, locations and prospects on its rugged old face.” And the miners crawling all over the mountain seemed to have one common cry, “Depth, depth, depth!”
In the early 1870s, over in Virginia City, German engineer Philip Deidsheimer created a timbering system for mining tunnels called “square sets,” which enabled the retrieval of huge amounts of ore from great depths in a safe manner. The tunnel companies in Eureka County, after a time, most likely adopted many of these methods as well.
Prospect Mountain loomed far above its neighbors, Ruby hill and Mineral or McCoy hill. The great ore belts discovered in Ruby hill pass right through Prospect Mountain southward.
The mountain was so honeycombed with mines in the early days, it was easiest to divide the whole thing into two parts: the mines of the western slope and the mines of the eastern slope.
In addition, mining tunnels were of great importance and as he writes about these, Molinelli said that the Prospect Mountain Tunnel Company was the most important, “far surpassing any other enterprise of similar character in the district.”
This tunnel was located on the west side of the mountain on what was called Capt. Foley’s ridge. It was started in August, 1876.
At the time of his writing, the tunnel was 950 feet long and 600 feet deep, but when completed was expected to “pierce the mountain at a depth of nearly 1,500 feet.”
The company was privately owned by the citizen stockholders in Eureka, and Molinelli noted most felt sure that in time, “they would be abundantly repaid for their investment.”
Over on the east side of the mountain, was the Maryland Tunnel, started in 1878 at the head of New York Canyon, some 1,500 feet wide and 3,000 feet long.
This company owned nine distinct claims, ranging at depths from 200 to 1,200 feet and, “the object of the tunnel is to cut through all of these claims for the purpose of developing and working the same; the claims all adjoining each other in one unbroken connection.”
The Maryland Tunnel, Molinelli wrote, was expected to develop, “one of the richest portions of the great mineral belt which runs through this section.”
He even gave some figures of what the nine claims had produced at the time of his 1879 book.
A third tunnel, the Eureka Tunnel, was driven at the eastern base of Prospect Mountain, “cutting the ore bearing zone on its line, at from 1,000 to 1,900 feet.”
It crossed five known ledges, upon which and near their works, were several mines that were “producing the richest ore ever found in the district.”
The tunnel was located at the head of Goodwin Canyon, and Molinelli said the tunnel at the time, was “600 feet long, 400 feet deep, running day and night.”
The final tunnel, and the largest, was the Charter Tunnel. It had the most extensive property owned by any one company, “being the possessor of not less than 38 separate and distinct claims.”
The main tunnel was immense Molinelli stated. “In front of its mouth, at the base of the mountain, is a level surface of several hundred acres.” Here the company had a reduction works and houses for the employees.
The tunnel entered the mountain about 350 feet lower than any of the others, and tapped into a mineral range that geologists at the time believed was “1,500 feet underground and extended for a distance of eight or ten miles.”
He said it was believed the Charter Tunnel would turn out to be, “among the most famous and valuable in the world, as it is beyond question that the mountain through which it runs is unsurpassed in mineral wealth.”
As the book was published in 1879, it has not been the focus of this article though to detail whatever happened with the mines in these tunnels, how long they lasted, or how much they produced in the years after, only that they once were there, serving as a colorful part of Nevada history.