The people who used the old Social Hall during Salt Lake City's first six decades weren't very good housekeepers.
But that's just fine with the archaeologists now sifting the ruins of the building, one of the valley's earliest landmarks.In their dig on Social Hall Avenue and State Street, a crew made up of students, Zions Securities employees and a BYU archaeologist have found porcelain doll arms, several bottles of what appear to be poster paint, a piece of ceramic dated 1852, glass beads, inkwells, slate pencils, fragments of slate writing boards, chalk, a button, a horseshoe, builders' tools and materials.
And a lot of chicken bones.
The stuff apparently fell through the floorboards of Social Hall during theater performances, school sessions and chicken dinners and are evidence of the building's functions between its construction in 1852 and its destruction nearly 70 years ago.
And if it's also evidence of hurried cleanups, well, "Thank goodness," said Don Southworth, project director from the office of public archaeology at BYU.
Such detritus "tells us what was going on," he said. "What could I ever tell about anybody if they were all clean? Don't put me out of business, please."
The artifacts they have found so far are interesting, Southworth said. But the building itself is the real prize.
Careful excavation has revealed the expected and the unexpected, such as stone floors, a baking oven and a set of chimneys that may have been part of a heating system.
Built from Red Butte Canyon sandstone in 1852 as a place to hold non-religious public functions, Social Hall was the first theater west of the Missouri River.
It was also a meeting place, a dance hall, the site of several sessions of the Territorial Legislature, headquarters for the Territorial Fair of 1856, a private school, the first site of LDS College, a gymnasium, a Red Cross station during World War I and a University of Utah building.
The building was razed in 1922, and a park was built on the fill carted in to bring the land to current street grade. In 1979, archaeologists dug it up to take measurements for a replica at Pioneer Trail State Park, then re-buried it. Last month, crews working on a pedestrian tunnel under State Street unearthed it again.
Zions Securities Corp., which is building the $2 million underground walkway, brought the BYU archaeolgists in to study the building. Southworth said plans for the ruins' future aren't firm but may include removal to a warehouse for preservation work. It then may be returned to the site and incorporated into the design of the underground walkway.