USU library to open transcontinental railroad exhibit for Golden Spike anniversary

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by Mitch Shaw, courtesy of Standard-Examiner

The sesquicentennial of the driving of the Golden Spike is still more than four months out, but folks from the Utah State University library are getting a jumpstart on the momentous anniversary.

Staffers from USU’s Merrill-Cazier Library and the Utah Division of State History will soon open a new transcontinental railroad exhibit on the fourth floor of the Utah State Capitol building in Salt lake City.

Titled, “A World Transformed: The Transcontinental Railroad and Utah,” the exhibit opened this month and remain on display through June 2019.  The exhibit highlights the impact of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States, which was completed in Northern Utah on May 10, 1869.

Built between 1863 and 1869, the line connected the Pacific Coast at San Francisco Bay with the existing Eastern U.S. railway. The railroad revolutionized the American West with a dependable transportation system that brought Western states economic prosperity through the relatively inexpensive and speedy movement of both goods and people.

The railroad played a major role in the history of Northern Utah, specifically Ogden. The ceremonial last Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Summit in Box Elder County 150 years ago.

“The impact that the transcontinental railroad had on the history of Utah cannot be underestimated,” said Todd Welch, USU’s associate dean for Special Collections, in a press release. “The railroad linked the territory to the rest of the country and served as the catalyst for economic and cultural change.”

According to USU’s marketing office, a grand opening will be held from 3-5 p.m. Jan. 23, featuring a short ceremony and guided gallery walks through the capitol. A companion exhibit presented by the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association will also be on display.

According to the USU press release, the exhibit was funded by a $55,000 grant from the state’s history office.

USU Special Collections and Archives photograph curator Dan Davis said the aim of the exhibit is to not only tell the story of the railroad’s impact on Utah, but to also highlight the people who built it.

“We looked at what Utah’s role was in completing the Transcontinental Railroad who are the people who worked on it and how did it affect the people who used it?” Davis said. “Then we went to different institutions around Utah and asked, ‘What can you contribute?’”

The display features photographs, maps, lithographs and artifacts on loan from the Golden Spike National Historic Site, Brigham Young University, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints History Library and the Utah State Historical Society. Molly Cannon, the director of USU’s Museum of Anthropology, is also contributing some artifacts related to Chinese laborers, according to the release.

After the exhibit’s run at the capitol building for the anniversary celebration, it will be moved to the Merrill-Cazier Library’s atrium. It will be on display at USU from July to September 2019, then will be relocated to the Southern Utah Museum of Art, displaying from October to December.

The exhibit will finish its tour of the state at the Park City Museum from early February through March 2020.