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A peek into the Utah State Historical Society

SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to photos and artifacts of Utah's history, the Utah State Historical Society has it. Located at the historic Rio Grande Depot at 300 South and 400 West in downtown Salt Lake City, the state has preserved hundreds of thousands of photos and historic items.

Last week, Phil Notarianni retired as Director of the Utah State Historical Society after 33 years of service. He contributed many things during his tenure, including collecting materials on the mining industry and the immigrant people who made it a major industry in Utah. Wilson Martin, the current acting director, is also the State Historic Preservation Officer and has been involved with state history for over 25 years.

Last week, Doug Misner and Michele Elnicky of the Society shared some of the historic treasures held within this treasure chest. They brought out one photo of LDS Church President Brigham Young, his two counselors in the First Presidency, and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve. The photo was taken in 1868 by Charles Savage.

The glass negative was found in the home of George M. Ottinger's son at 273 F Street. Ottinger was a Utah painter who was an early partner with Savage between 1862 and 1867. Many recognize this historic photo, but it is usually cropped to only show about a third of the image.

The parts of the photograph that are usually cut out give interesting glimpses into that moment when the photograph was taken. In the background is Brigham Young's schoolhouse. A young man and young women peak from behind the tent backdrop set up for the photo. The Ottinger family, back in 1964, gave nine boxes of photos and negatives to the state.

Another treasure at the Utah State Historical Society is the Savage Portrait Collection. If you are looking for a photo of a relative that lived in Salt Lake in the 1920s, this collection has over 19,000 photos with names of the individual portraits. An index can be found on line at

If you want to see photos of buildings, people, and events, you can look at the Shipler Collection of over 100,000 images, or Clifford Bray, City Engineers Office, or peoples of Utah photo collections. Some 50,000 plus images are currently on line.

The Utah State Historical Society is more than just photographs. It houses historically significant objects as well. For example, if you were ever wondering what happened to early Utah attorney, legislator, and later, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, George Sutherland's desk — it is in the basement at the Rio Grande. It keeps company with Kennecott mining giant Daniel C. Jackling's World War I uniform. Early Utah films of river rafting, skiing and parades are also there.

One of the most well-used resources in the collection is the city directories, which goes from the late 1850s to present. The directories show the names, addresses and occupations of the residents of the city. Later, after people began to get telephones, these directories included phone numbers. They also have other major Utah cities in the collection.

Not many people know about the Sanborn maps that started in the mid-1860s and ran into the late 20th century. The maps show every street and every building or home, including what they were made of and their dimensions.

The maps were used by insurance companies to define individual insurance rates.

If you want to see a few thousand photos of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, they are on their website. Another well-used section is the yearbooks of Utah's high schools and universities — many of which go back to 1900.

If you can't find a printed item you want you can check the State Archives that shares the research center with the Historical Society at the Rio Grande. Both organizations are happy to assist with your search for early documents and records.

If you have a photo you want to know something about or wish to share something with us and the readers of the Deseret News contact us at: