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First Chinese house for transcontinental railroad workers discovered in Utah

Posted at 5:02 PM, Oct 15, 2021

BOX ELDER COUNTY, Utah — Archeologists have been excavating a ghost town in Box Elder County to learn more about the Chinese immigrants who worked on the transcontinental railroad.

Chris Merritt has been leading out a team as a preservation officer for the Utah State Historic Preservation Office.

Merritt and his team first began excavating out in Terrace Utah in September of 2020, then went out again in May of 2021.

WATCH: Archaeology project underway at historical Utah railroad town

What Merritt and others found was preserved porcelain, a medicine bottle, tools for writing Chinese characters and even a good luck charm.

“This is likely the older historic artifact you can find in the state of Utah,” said Merritt.

Merritt’s referring to the good luck charm, which was a coin likely minted back in 17th century China before it made its way overseas to Utah in the late 19th century.

“The archeology, the stuff, the trash is what is left behind and it is what can really tell us the life stories of these immigrants,” said Merritt.

Uncovering fragments of life where about 500 people lived while working on the Transcontinental railroad.

Terrace, Utah had the third largest Chinese population in Utah. In total, there were more than 1,300 Chinese workers who helped build the Transcontinental Railroad from across the States.

Even more exciting than the porcelain bowls and medicine bottle, Merritt and his team uncovered a 150-year-old Chinese home.

“That’s the first Chinese home on the Transcontinental in the entire nation,” said Merritt.

A huge discovery because of the stories it houses — stories the Chinese immigrants in the past couldn’t write or say for themselves in English.

3-D MODELS: See models of the excavation

Anna Eng is a fifth-generation immigrant, her great-grandfather came and worked on the Transcontinental railroad to send money back to her family in China.

“We’ve been in my family searching for this history since I’ve been here, since I was five years old,” said Eng.

Eng’s great-grandfather lived through brutal working conditions and was eventually killed in an avalanche.

“Really to understand what our great grandfathers lived through, what they experienced is incredible,” said Eng.

Merritt and his team are now working on cleaning, sorting, and cataloging what they found in their excavation to help piece together more of Utah’s history.

In the video below, FOX 13's Erin Cox gives her report in Chinese: