Ajax (Tooele County, Utah) is located in the heart of Rush Valley on Highway-36, midway between St. John Station and Vernon. The site was originally settled in 1863 by Welsh farmers as a hay and livestock area. It was known as Center, for its location in the center of the valley between Stockton and Vernon.
In 1869 William Ajax transferred his store operation from Salt Lake City to this area and began selling supplies to local miners and ranchers. He excavated with only a shovel and wheelbarrow to carve out a two story underground business area where the extreme winter and summer temperatures were greatly subdued. He developed a complete underground department store, cafe, and hotel. Goods were arranged in department store style. It was estimated the value of the merchandise was in excess of $70,000. When the railroad came through, travel to and from more distant destinations became easier, mines declined, families moved out, and business diminished. William Ajax died in 1899. By 1914 the site was abandoned and became a ghost town.
Fast forward to 1977. While stationed at Tooele Army Depot, Tooele, Utah some friends and I set out to locate and metal detect Ajax's underground store. Since we had a book on Utah ghost towns and a map to follow, it was easy to locate. Upon arriving at the site it, we found a large depression in the ground with rock and timbers sticking out of the once underground store. It was about 50 feet from the railroad tracks. I found one coin there, a beat up 1905 V nickel. I also recovered a 3' long steel railroad wrench, rusty, but still in good condition.
William Ajax 1832–1899
Born on 13 March 1832 in South Wales, William Ajax was one of three children born to unwed parents, Thomas Truman Ajax and Rebecka Darkus. William and Frances Maxwell raised William and provided him with five years of formal schooling.
William joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the age of twenty-one. He then served for almost ten years as a Latter-day Saint missionary, serving several missions in Wales. In 1859 he was called to edit the Udgorn Seion, the Latter-day Saint Welsh publication. He later moved to England where he married Emma Hughes in 1861. William and Emma struggled with health problems, including one miscarriage, but they had nine children after immigrating to Utah.
In May 1862 William and Emma sailed to New York. They traveled to Utah in the Ansel P. Harmon Company, arriving in Salt Lake City in October 1862. William established a store in Salt Lake City, but when the firm of Watt, Slater, and Ajax failed a few years later, he moved with his wife and three children to Rush Valley, just west of Salt Lake City. There he first sold hay to the local mining community and then established a general store. His store was eventually known as the “Big Store in the Wilderness,” located entirely underground and measuring 100 by 80 feet. As one traveler wrote for the Deseret News, 14 July 1900, “Driving from Vernon to Clover Creek is encountered one of the most peculiar and unique buildings of modern times . . . known as the Ajax store.” The nearby town was officially named Centre, but with the success of the store it simply became know as “Ajax.”
William died 2 October 1899 in Centre, Utah. The store continued to do business until 1913, when the mining business declined. Centre is now a ghost town.
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