Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history

Season 3, Ep. 8: “Rails East to Ogden:” Abandon Cultural Landscapes, Historical Archaeology and One of USA’s “Unknown National Treasures”

November 24, 2021 Brad Westwood, Senior Public Historian, Utah Dept. of Heritage & Arts Season 3 Episode 8
Speak Your Piece: a podcast about Utah's history
Season 3, Ep. 8: “Rails East to Ogden:” Abandon Cultural Landscapes, Historical Archaeology and One of USA’s “Unknown National Treasures”
Show Notes

Date: 07.12.2021 (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 travelers would have experienced it circa 1869 to 1900. There is nothing like it among the surviving segments 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. They offer fascinating descriptions concerning Chinese immigrant work camps and life (including later more substantial China towns). Garbage strewn about and buried, documenting immigrant goods and containers that traveled from such places as China, Ireland and Europe; ghost towns where once hundreds of people lived in 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 stagecoach roads that took people and goods to frontier Idaho and Montana; all adjacent to a railroad grade that was actively used from 1869 to 1942.

The episode includes stories (and the evidence) about the artifacts and ruins that, after being scientifically and archaeologically examined, challenge us to reassess what we know about Utah’s earliest railroad and the state’s very ethnically diverse past. 

It is acknowledged that the extended landscapes described in this episode are ancestral lands of the Shoshone people, among other adjacent tribes.



Guest Bio:


Michael Polk is a historical archaeologist for the Western United States. He is the principal and owner of Aspen Ridge Consultants, a heritage resources firm providing consultation in historical archaeology, history 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 author 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