Cove Fort Celebrating 150 Years of Historic Refuge

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott

  • 10 August 2017

Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott. 

Article Highlights

  • Built by Ira Hinckley in 1867, Cove Fort was a place of refuge during the Black Hawk war.
  • Today, Cove Fort hosts an annual celebration in August with games, food, and live entertainment.

“This fort means so much to my family and I hope that I can represent [Ira Hinckley], and the others that came after him, well.” —Louise Hinckley Crosby, great-grandaughter of Ira Hinckley

A century and a half after her great-grandfather Ira Hinckley was asked by Brigham Young to move from Coalville, Utah, to Millard County in central Utah, Louise Hinckley Crosby accepted a call from the prophet to leave her home in St. George and move to Cove Fort.

“My daughter called it ‘positively providential,’” Sister Crosby said. “I am honored to be here. This fort means so much to my family and I hope that I can represent [Ira Hinckley], and the others that came after him, well.”

For Sister Crosby, taking people through the fort and telling visitors about what happened there is more than just recounting a story, it is telling her own family's story.

Sesquicentennial celebration

Sister Crosby first remembers visiting the fort as a young girl when her family was coming home from a trip and they stopped at the fort. Her father, Arza Hinckley, had permission to take his family inside, where he told experiences of his family members, including the story of his father, Alonzo, being born in one of the rooms at Cove Fort.

“I have loved the fort from that day till now,” Sister Crosby said. “I love walking where they walked everyday. I feel their joy.”

Although the destination looks little different than when her great-grandfather first settled the Cove Creek area, Sister Crosby says the purpose of the fort—to be a place of peace and rest—continues still today.

“We are celebrating our sesquicentennial year this year,” said Sister Crosby. “We get about 70,000 to 80,000 visitors each year . . . and this year we are planning on having more visitors since it is the 150th anniversary.”

A prophet’s call

A few years before Cove Fort was built, Charles and Eleanor Willden built an adobe house in the area. By 1862, the family had purchased land and began to grow grain and raise sheep and cattle. In 1885, during the Black Hawk War, Native Americans attacked Fort Willden. After the attack and a severe winter, the Willdens moved their family to Beaver, Utah.

Built by Ira Hinckley in 1867, Cove Fort was made to be a place of peace and refuge for travelers during the war. Standing approximately 18-feet high with walls made of lava rock built four feet thick, the 12-room structure—built by President Gordon B. Hinckley’s paternal grandfather—stands as a reminder of the history of the area and the faith and sacrifice of the people who lived there.

Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. The celebration honors Ira and Adelaide Hinckley, who lived in the fort with their family for many years. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Missionaries acting as Brigham Young, Ira Hinckley and Adelaide Hinckley welcome guests to Cove Fort and officially open the doors to begin this year's celebration of Cove Fort Days. The annual Cove Fort Days were held Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Ross Murdock from Cedar City, Utah, plays the concertina with a guest to Cove Fort during the annual Cove Fort Days celebration on Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. The celebration honors Ira and Adelaide Hinckley, who lived in the fort with their family for many years. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Wildflowers near Cove Fort in Millard County, Utah, on Aug. 4. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

“All kinds of people came through the area,” said Sister Crosby. “And Ira and Adelaide didn’t turn anyone away.”

The location between Fillmore and Beaver—although somewhat desolate and remote—served as a link for the telegraph and twice a day a stagecoach came by the fort. Because the water supply was inadequate to support a large population, the fort was meant to be a rest stop, rather than a final destination.

Travelers, Church members and entertainers often stopped for a meal or stayed within the walls of the fort over the years. Although the structure was built in a way that it could be a protection in times of assault, while under the direction of the Hinckley family for more than two decades there was never an attack.

Restoring the fort

In the early 1890s leaders of the Church decided that the fort was no longer needed and later sold the structure to the William H. Kesler family. For much of the next century, the Keslers lived in Cove Fort and built up the area around the structure.

“When my parents were in their late 70s they learned that it might be a possibility to purchase the fort from the Kesler family,” Sister Crosby said. “They got word out to the family—and that was without the internet and texts and emails. Within six weeks they came up with the money to purchase the fort.”

After being locked up and vacant for the previous eight years, the fort needed some work. The family purchased the building with the intent to donate it to the Church. But before they gave it to the Church, the Hinckley family spent six months cleaning and restoring the property.

Sister Crosby’s parents, Arza and Erma Hinckley, brought trailers to the land and invited family members to come and help them as they worked to clean up the fort.

“We have a lot of memories of working to clean it up,” said Susan Hinckley Thomas, Sister Crosby’s sister. Sister Thomas said her children still talk about some of the adventures they had while working on the fort.

In 1988, the family officially donated the fort to the Church and a few years later, on May 32, 1994, President Gordon B. Hinckley, a descendant of Ira and then a member of the First Presidency, dedicated the complex to those who would “pause in their travels, to learn, to reflect and to meditate on things sacred and divine.”

Cove Fort today

In addition to the visitors throughout the year, every summer thousands of visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days celebration. Held on Aug. 4-5, the event brought visitors of all ages to the fort to celebrate the people and experience of Cove Fort.

Meant to be a fun event for families and travelers passing through, the celebration offers games, food, and live entertainment.

On August 4, seven out of the eight children of Arza and Erma Hinckley—the couple who purchased the fort in the 1980s—returned to Cove Fort to visit with each other and remember their ancestors.

“It is so touching to be here,” said Sister Thomas. “Our heart is here. It is part of us and we are part of it.”

For Sister Crosby, serving as a missionary at Cove Fort with her husband, Richard, has been an incredible experience. Taking her siblings and their spouses on a tour of the fort was a sweet addition to the festivities.

“My parents did this so that hundreds of thousands of people from around the world would come here to learn about the gospel,” Sister Crosby said. “Today, we have seven out of eight siblings here, our oldest sister passed away last year. It means a lot to the family—and becomes more and more meaningful.

“You can feel the Spirit here on these beautiful grounds. It is peaceful and calm, and it helps us understand a greater understanding of what the pioneers sacrificed as they were obedient to a prophets call.”

Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. Visitors enjoyed carriage rides, games, entertainment and food. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Ira and Adelaide Hinckley descendants stand in front of their grandparents home located accross the street from Cove Fort in Millard County, Utah, on Aug. 4, 2017. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in central Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Ryndon Ricks, from Rexburg, Idaho, center, works with Stephen Jean and Christian Taylor to show how blacksmiths performed their trade on Aug. 4, 2017. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

A watchmaker shows a collection of watches to visitors during Cove Fort Days on Aug 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

A view of Cove Fort from the top of the fort. Thousands of visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held August 4-5, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

A photo of Ira and Adelaide Hinckley hangs on the wall of one of the bedrooms at Cove Fort. Visitors gathered at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

The entrance to Cove Fort. Thousands of visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held August 4-5, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

The entrance to Cove Fort. Thousands of visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held August 4-5, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Ira and Adelaide Hinckley's home. The cabin is originally from Coalville, Utah, where the family lived before they were asked to live at Cove Fort in 1867. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

A potter demonstrates how to make pottery to children visiting Cove Fort during the annual Cove Fort Days celebration on Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Thousands of visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held August 4-5, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

A picture of Cove Fort in 1869. Photo courtesy of Louise Crosby.

Ira Nathaniel Hinckley was asked by Brigham Young to build Cove Fort in 1867. Photo courtesy of Louise Crosby.

A picture of the Cove Fort dedication ceremony on May 21, 1994. Photo courtesy of Louise Crosby.

Stephanie Taylor shows visitors how to make artisan bread in a dutch oven as part of the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Zephyr Schlup enjoys a carriage ride during the annual Cove Fort Days celebration on Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Golden and Sarah Barrett stand with their children, Porter, Barrett and Ember during the Cove Fort Days celebration on Aug. 4, 2017. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Adelaide Cameron Noble Hinckley. Photo courtesy of Louise Crosby.

The original doors at the entrance to Cove Fort. Thousands of visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held August 4-5, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

A hole built in the wall of Cove Fort served as a holder for a gun in case of times of distress. Visitors gathered at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Elder Richard Crosby and Sister Louise Hinckley Crosby are serving at Cove Fort. Sister Hinckley is a descendant of Ira Hinckley. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

A bedroom in Cove Fort shows visitors how the fort would have looked during the late 1800s.. Thousands of visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held August 4-5, 2017, This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

A view of Cove Fort from the top of the fort. Thousands of visitors gather at Cove Fort for the annual Cove Fort Days held August 4-5, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.

Rick Thayne prepares artisan bread in a dutch oven as part of the presentation at Cove Fort Days on Aug. 4, 2017. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fort, located in Millard County, Utah. Photo by Marianne Holman Prescott.