SALT LAKE CITY — A construction crew found more than just rocks and dirt while building a new UTA maintenance and fueling facility in Salt Lake City.
During the dig, workers found fully intact bottles and ceramic pottery that could date back to the 1880s.
“This is a unique discovery in a railroad yard.” said Christopher Merritt, Historic Preservation Officer for the Utah Division of State History.
The downtown construction site just south of UTA headquarters used to be home to the Denver and Rio Grande Western Locomotive Shop until the late 1950s.
“I have a sneaking suspicion these are the contents of a passenger car,” says Merritt. “Sort of like a movie theater. Once the movie was over the crew went in and cleaned out all the trash and these items were deposited. That’s really unique. I can’t think of any other similar discovery in the United States of what a passenger experience would have been like on the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad in the 19th century.”
Some of the bottles found still had corks in them, with the contents inside.
Work began on the new Depot District Clean Fuels Technology Center in 2018 with a target completion date by 2022.
Crews with Big D Construction will continue its work on the facility while the artifacts site is mapped and documented. Meanwhile, there may be other secrets unearthed in the coming weeks and months.
“You do wonder what other surprises might be encountered." said Merritt. "Every time we scrape with a back hoe or a bulldozer we’re learning something more about our state’s past. In this area we’re just learning about this really cool railroad history. What was it like to ride in a passenger train dining car in the 19th century? What were they drinking and eating? This kind of discovery is our only window into that past.”