Park City Museum is a silver mine full of history
May 17, 2016
In 2009, after a nearly $9 million, two-year renovation, the Park City Museum opened its doors and opened the eyes of visitors and residents to its new comprehensive, interactive and permanent exhibit.
Today, the museum’s three stories are filled with approximately 50 percent of its artifact collection, according to Executive Director Sandra Morrison.
"We have a total of about 50,000 items in our collection," Morrison told The Park Record during a tour. "Those items include our archives as well."
The artifacts that fill the 6,000-foot main floor exhibit range from an original Egyptian Theatre backdrop to a 1941 Rock-Ola jukebox.
"The backdrop dates back to the 1930s and you can pinpoint that by both the stores it advertises and the phone numbers," she said. "All the phone numbers on the backdrop have three digits.
"It’s amazing that this backdrop survived, because businesses would pay to be painted onto the backdrop," she said. "If you didn’t pay to be on the next one, they would paint a new one and throw the old one away."
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When people enter the exhibit, the first thing they see isn’t the backdrop or juke box. It’s a train and Kimball Brothers stage coach, which signifies the opening of the West, according to Morrison.
"When we did the museum design, we thought about our visitors, who come from around the country," she explained. "Then we thought about who lives in Park City and realized most of them were from across the country as well. So, we wanted to pick a time we knew people could connect with U.S. history."
Once the visitors climb aboard the train, they get to see a film about the Western expansion, the Louisiana Purchase and Louis and Clark before it zeros in on Utah and the arrival of the Mormon pioneers.
"Then it goes into the discovery of silver, where Park City got its start," Morrison said. "The train was actually more to do with transporting heavy [silver] ore than passengers. Ore was heavy and needed a much more efficient means of transportation than wagons and horses, which would be worn out quickly with the amount of ore coming out of the mountains."
The rest of the main floor is about life in Park City throughout the different time periods and includes items from the Smith and Brim general store as well as the old post office boxes, an original telephone switchboard and items from the 2002 Olympics and Sundance Film Festival.
The Smith and Brim items include the counter, the bread bin, the cheese cutter, cash register, butcher block and paper bag holder, Morrison pointed out.
"The grocery store was originally located across the street from where the museum is located, before the items were relocated to an antique store in Kamas in the 1990s," she said. "It was Park Record editor-in-chief, Nan [Chalat Noaker], who called and told me the Smith and Brim collection was out in Kamas."
The main floor exhibit also features a piece of original wooden water pipe.
"In 2004, we received a call from the water department that was replacing the utilities up on Norfolk Avenue," Morrison said. "They said they found an old water pipe and that it looked like a hollowed out tree with metal bands around it. It was intact and in pretty good shape for being buried deep in the ground."
The ceiling is two stories above the main floor.
"We did that on purpose so we could maximize the space by hanging some of the larger objects that are in our collection," Morrison said. "One of those is the Park City Mountain Resort gondola that ran from the 1970s to 1997."
In order to see some of those hanging items at eye level, visitors can climb a stairway to a mezzanine. However, on the way to the stairs, they pass an actual mining double cage that shows how miners and ore traveled up and down the shaft.
The stairs themselves wind around a scale model of the Ontario Mine that was owned by George Hearst in the 1880s.
"Mines had dug down 1,000 feet and George Hearrst decided to sink a third shaft into the mine," Morrison said. "He had crews build a three-compartment shaft, knowing the third one would have the Cornish pump and you can see the pumping rod moving in the model."
In addition, the mine carts and the gondola on top of the display move as well.
"We added the Silver King Coalition Building and the aerial tramway there because we in Park City are very fond of the aerial tramway towers," Morrison said with a laugh.
While the museum is set up in a way that there is no wrong way to explore, it’s not chronologically based.
"That means at any point, you could learn about different time periods of Park City history," Morrison said.
The more people visit, the more they learn, especially because museum staff change the exhibits, and the frequency of those changes depends on the items, Morrison explained.
"For example, fabrics, such as [clothing] and some of the textiles in the skiing exhibits, get rotated every six months," she said. "Textiles are the most delicate items we have and the best way to keep them preserved are in cold in the dark. So, obviously putting them on display warms them up and is not the best way to store them."
One of the more popular items is the Graham Brothers fire truck that can be seen in one of the museum’s front windows.
"The fire truck is one of four the city bought in 1926," Morrison said.
The museum, which was built in Park City’s original fire and police station, includes a bell tower and char marks from the Great Fire of 1898 that destroyed most of the business district, according to Morrison.
"We have a fire alarm that we test every night," she said. "Most places test their fire alarm at noon, so people know its time for lunch. For some reason, Park City tests its fire alarm at 10 p.m. And it goes off every night, except during the Olympics. It went off once, but caused a panic, so we were told not to do it again until after the Olympics ended."
The permanent exhibit also winds down into the basement where there are mining cars filled with ore, The Miner ski transport, interactive mining dynamite and drilling displays and the original Park City jail.
"A lot of times those memorable moments growing up as a kid is, quite often, going to museums and different places that make an impact," Morrison said. "So, we try to use different means to connect not only with kids, but with adults to make this a memorable experience."
The Park City Museum, 528 Main St., is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sunday, from noon until 6 p.m. Extended summer hours will begin Memorial Day weekend. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for students, senior citizens and military personnel. Admission for children ages 7 to 17 is $5 and children ages 6 and younger are admitted for free. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityhistory.org .