SALT LAKE CITY — The installation of a storm drain during construction of a new UTA maintenance and fueling facility unearthed some odd items believed to be nearly a couple of centuries old.
An intact ceramic soap dish. Unbroken bottles.
Items like these are being described as “midden,” meaning they are likely from a trash pile, but the archaeological find is being compared to a jackpot by history buffs.
“This is a unique discovery in a railroad yard,” said Christopher Merritt, the historic preservation officer with the Utah Division of State History.
Merritt suspects the items discovered during construction of the UTA’s Depot District Clean Fuels Technology Center for its bus fleet were originally the contents of a passenger railway car.
“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,” he said.
He added that several of the bottles discovered were corked and had liquid in them, likely whiskey or some other hard liquor.
The site where the construction work is being done by contractor Big D was once home to a locomotive shop that operated as a maintenance arm to service engines from the mid-1880s into the late 1950s.
Brian Murphy, project director for Big D, said the items were recovered in a trench workers dug in a street adjacent to the site for the storm drain.
“There was a lot of buzz when they made the discovery,” he said. “Whatever we found we immediately scooped up and put into our trailer. ... It is a fascinating part of history that is largely forgotten.”
Big D and UTA have been following state protocols to document where the items where found, as well as their condition.
Merritt wonders what more might be in store for another discovery, with these items also providing insight into not only Utah’s past, but railroad history.
Demolition of the abandoned locomotive shop began in 2019 to make way for the LEED-certified tech center, which will charge electric buses, expand UTA’s service by housing more buses and create both long- and short-term jobs, according to UTA.
The expected completion date is sometime in 2022.