Archaeologists unearth first-ever house for Chinese transcontinental railroad workers in the US

·3 min read

Archaeologists from the Utah State Historic Preservation Office have uncovered the first Chinese house for transcontinental railroad workers in the U.S. during an excavation of a ghost town in Terrace, Utah, last May.

The discovery: Preservation officer Chris Merritt led a team of archaeologists to conduct two excavations in September 2020 and May 2021, according toFOX13 Now.


  • The team found artifacts that were considered everyday items at the time, including preserved porcelain bowls, a medicine bottle, tools used to write Chinese characters and a 17th-century coin that served as a good luck charm.

  • The team cleaned, sorted and cataloged the items they found at the archaeological site to learn more about Utah’s history.

  • The archaeology, the stuff, the trash is what is left behind and it is what can really tell us the life stories of these immigrants,” Merritt said about the discoveries.

  • The location where the items were found may also suggest some form of racial segregation at the site as the materials left by Chinese immigrants were discovered separated from non-Chinese residents of Terrace, according to KSL. Despite the findings, Merritt said there was no official documentation that proves there was racial segregation.

  • Besides the artifacts, the group also found a 150-year-old house believed to be the house of Chinese immigrants working at the transcontinental railroads at the time. In a statement, Merritt said the discovery was the “first Chinese home on the Transcontinental in the entire nation.”

  • The house, believed to be built around 1869 or 1870, was more vertical than horizontal, unlike most homes that exist today, KSL reported. Merritt also added that the boards used to erect the house were from surplus materials used to construct the railroad.


Site preservation: The state launched a program that teaches people how to spot land vandalism at archaeological sites and report them to authorities, according to Elizabeth Hora, an archaeologist for the Utah State Historic Preservation Office.

  • Margeret Yee, chairwoman of the Chinese Railroad Worker Descendants Association, believes education and signage on sites such as Terrace could help preserve historical areas from inadvertent looting.

  • Rep. Karen Kwan, president of the Chinese Railroad Worker Descendants Association and House minority whip of the Utah Legislature, is currently working on a resolution that will highlight the importance of archaeological sites. Kwan also supports putting up signage in the area to prevent the scavenging of artifacts once owned by Chinese immigrants.

  • Why are you stealing from me? It's not mine, personally, but it feels that way," she said. “People who are going out intentionally looking for artifacts, it's not only a shame it's a crime."


Other details: California unanimously passed a resolution in May 2017 that officially proclaimed May 10 as California Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial Day to commemorate the 12,000 Chinese railroad workers who helped construct the Transcontinental Railroad.

  • The Transcontinental Railroad project was started in 1862 under the Pacific Railroad Act and was finished after reaching Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869, History reported. The railroad project, which began in Sacramento, Calif. on one side and Omaha, Neb. on the other was built by Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Companies.


Featured Image via FOX 13 News Utah (left), Wikimedia Commons (right)

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