UPDATE: Park City construction crew unearths dynamite, forcing evacuations | ParkRecord.com

UPDATE: Park City construction crew unearths dynamite, forcing evacuations

Parts of Old Town were evacuated Monday morning after a box of what appeared to be vintage flares or explosives were found under a house on Empire Avenue.
Courtesy of Park City

A construction crew in Old Town on Monday discovered a box containing dynamite believed to date to Park City’s silver-mining era, forcing the authorities to close nearby roads, order people out of houses and call a bomb squad from the Salt Lake Valley to dispose of the explosives.

The dynamite was unearthed at 911 Empire Ave., where a historic house is under renovation. The house has been put on cribbing as the renovation continues. The box was found in the dirt under the floorboards, the excavator, John Whiteley, said. City Hall said in a prepared statement the Park City Police Department and the Park City Fire District were called to the address at 10 a.m. The bomb squad was requested shortly afterward.

Whiteley said the box contained approximately 50 sticks of dynamite. It was not clear at the time of the discovery whether the sticks were dynamite or flares. Whiteley said the workers broke some of the sticks in half to see the insides. He said there was a “wet clay” substance inside. Whiteley called the police.

“I’ve found all kind of things,” he said, adding, “I never found dynamite. This is a first.”

Whiteley, a veteran of excavations in Old Town and elsewhere in Park City, said he has found bottles, carved stones, a safe and a human skull over the years as he has dug.

Tom Peek, the owner of the house, said the discovery was a “total surprise.” The crew told him of the find shortly afterward.

Park City was founded as a silver-mining camp in the 19th century, and the industry drove the economy through the middle of the 20th century. There are numerous mining-era sites in Old Town, and historic homes in the neighborhood date to that period. There are numerous stories over the years of modern-day construction crews unearthing relics from the mining era. Discoveries involving explosives from that era are rare, though.

The Park City Police Department ordered people and traffic out of the area. The evacuation zone ran from Crescent Tram on the south to 12th Street on the north. The east-west borders were Lowell Avenue and Empire Avenue. The police went door to door ordering people out of their residences. A targeted phone notification was sent to residents on the impacted streets as well.

The size of the evacuation zone made it difficult to observe the work of the police and the bomb squad. Some of the Police Department vehicles appeared to be posted at least several hundred feet away from the location.

City Hall said the number of people impacted was small, but a precise figure was not available. Many of the residences within the evacuation zone are vacation homes. Officials also opened a reception area at the nearby Park City Library for any evacuees. There was no one there at one point during the road closures.

The evacuation order was lifted at 1:25 p.m. after the bomb squad removed the dynamite. City Hall said the bomb squad destroyed the dynamite in a controlled burn in what is described as a cement dump close to Round Valley. The commotion in Old Town occurred at a time when Park City otherwise appeared to be enjoying a slow morning late in the ski season after a busy weekend.

There have been a series of unusual discoveries over the years at Park City construction sites or roadwork locations as the digging reaches as shallow as several feet. Some of the finds have included approximately 300 sticks of dynamite from the mining era in Empire Pass, a human skull between the 1200 blocks of Empire Avenue and Norfolk Avenue in Old Town and a buried safe containing one penny on Main Street.

Lifting a historic house with cribbing is a common construction method in Old Town. It allows a crew to excavate underneath without needing to temporarily relocate a house for the work.

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