Speak Your Piece | 8: “Rails East to Ogden:” Abandon Cultural Landscapes, Historical Archaeology and One of USA’s “Unknown National Treasures”

Date: 07.12. (Season 3, Episode 8, 1: 20:00 min.) To read the complete Utah Dept. of Culture & Community Engagement show notes for this episode (including topics in time, photos and recommended readings) click hereInterested in other episodes of Speak Your Piece? Click here for more episodes.

Podcast Content:

What can be encountered on one of the United State’s most austere and vacant landscapes?  A whole lot, including a largely “unknown national treasure,” an eighty-seven mile stretch of raised railroad grade, built across a breathtaking scenic and cultural landscape, winding around the Great Salt Lake, with views of the Promontory, Hansen, Hogup, Grouse Creek, Newfoundland and Lakeside Mountains. On this road you will experience a landscape largely as it would have been seen by travelers on the first transcontinental railroad; nothing like any surviving portions of the 1862-1869 transcontinental railroad.

Speaking of their 2021 publication, Rails East to Ogden: Utah’s Transcontinental Railroad Story (a BLM Utah, Cultural Series Publication) historical archaeologists Michael Polk (Aspen Ridge Consultants) and Christopher W. Merritt (Utah SHPO) interpreted over ten years of new research and discoveries, and offer fascinating descriptions concerning Chinese immigrant work camps and life (including later more substantial China towns); strewn and buried garage that document goods that traveled from mainland China, Ireland and Europe; ghost town where hundreds of people and families once lived and enjoyed homes, bunk houses, pleasure gardens, hotels, bakeries and even a public library; water lines made of hollowed redwood logs which once quenched thirsty steam locomotives; a half a dozen railroad facilities (now only rubble); and adjoining roads that took people and goods to frontier Idaho and Montana; all adjacent to a railroad that was actively used from 1869 to World War II.

Guest Bio:

Michael Polk is a historical archaeologist for the Western United States. He is the principal and owner of Aspen Ridge Consultants, a resources firm providing consultation in historical archaeology, and architectural history. Polk has a long career in archaeology, serving in companies such as Sagebrush Consultants and Environment Consultants. He has been investigating Utah's diverse cultural and industrial landscapes for over forty years.

Christopher W. Merritt is a historical archaeologist and the Utah State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), based out of the Utah Division of State History.  Merritt is a leading advocate for historical archaeology throughout the western United States. He is the of numerous studies, reports and academic articles, and is the author of the book The Coming Man from Canton: Chinese Experience in Montana, 1862 – 1943 (2017).

Do you have a question or comment, or a proposed guest for “Speak Your Piece?” Write us at “ask a historian” – askahistorian@utah.gov

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