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Utah State History Receives Grant to Increase Awareness of Asian and Pacific Islanders’ Impact

5 December 2014

Geoff Fattah, 801-245-7205, Public Information Office, Dept. of Heritage and Arts

Dr. Christopher Merritt, 801-245-7263 or, Archaeologist, Utah Division of State History

Utah State History Receives Grant to Increase Awareness of Asian and Pacific Islanders’ Impact

Salt Lake City – The Utah Division of State History received $42,050 from the National Park Service to increase the awareness of Asian and Pacific Islander communities’ contributions to Utah’s history and to increase the number of listings in the National Register of Historic Places associated with these underrepresented communities.

The project will engage with prominent facets of Utah history – the role of Chinese laborers on the railroads and the Pacific Islander settlement of Iosepa – that intersect these communities.

First, on May 10, 1869 the United States’ first transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Point, Utah, using over 10,000 Chinese laborers in its construction.  In 2019, the nation will celebrate the 150th anniversary of this significant event, even though no Chinese sites associated with the railroad construction have been nominated to, or listed on, the National Register of Historic Places. Chinese laborers also helped in the construction of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad from 1880-1883, just before passage of a restrictive immigration act.

A second area of focus is on the founding of Iosepa in 1889 by a community of Pacific Islanders recently converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Over the next 28 years the population of Iosepa grew to over 200, with construction of frame houses, sawmills, canals, in-ground water systems, and many other modern conveniences before abandonment in 1917. Since 1980, the descendant community has held Memorial Day celebrations at the Iosepa Cemetery, while the remains of the town are located on private lands.

“The goals of this project are to identify the existing body of knowledge on these communities, raise awareness of the historic contributions of these communities to Utah and national history, and formally recognize those contributions through National Register of Historic Places listing,” said Dr. Christopher Merritt, an archaeologist with the Utah Division of State History and the project’s manager. “These efforts will engage a diverse cadre of stakeholders, descendant community groups, and the general public.”

“Our American heritage is a tapestry made up of threads from many nations and communities, and we are working with public and private partners to help ensure that our National Register of Historic Places reflects this remarkable diversity,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell .

“We often tell stories through places,” said Brad Westwood, Director of State History, “and we are committed to telling a more complete history of Utah’s peoples over the past 13,000 years with our September 2015 annual conference exploring Utah’s multicultural past.”

Since 1897, the Utah Division of State History has helped to keep Utah engaged in its past and prosperous by preserving and recording significant history.