Now a popular visitors’ center, this 1867 wilderness way station was once a strategic link in the chain of settlements established by Latter-day Saint pioneers.
On 12 April 1867 President Brigham Young wrote a letter to Ira Hinckley asking him to “take charge” of building a fort on Cove Creek, located in central Utah a day’s journey from the town of Fillmore on the north or the town of Beaver on the south. This fort, built instead of a town because of the scarcity of water, was to be a way station for Latter-day Saints traveling along the “Mormon Corridor”—settlements stretching from Idaho to Nevada connected by a network of roads, telegraph lines, and postal routes. Being a man of action, Ira left his home in Coalville, Utah, on April 17 for his new assignment, his family to come later.
Between April and November 1867, quarrymen, stonemasons, and carpenters from central Utah settlements labored together to construct the fort. Built of black volcanic rock and dark limestone quarried nearby, the walls are one hundred feet long and eighteen feet high. Lumber, mostly cedar and pine, was used for the roof, twelve interior rooms, and the massive doors at the east and west ends of the fort.
For years the fort bustled with activity. “In those early days it was not isolation to be at the fort,” said Ira’s daughter, Luna. “The news of the great, growing West throbbed over the lines into the telegraph office at the fort and through [the] post office passed the news of the new western empire” delivered by Pony Express riders.1 Children laughed as they played in the inner courtyard. Daily, two stagecoaches with a variety of weary travelers rumbled up to the fort. Latter-day Saint families, some of whom were moving to new communities, unhitched their teams from their heavily loaded wagons and led the horses to the barn. Cowboys tended the tithing herds, and a blacksmith clanged metal into horseshoes with his hammer. Evening conversation was lively around the long table where each night a new variety of visitors, perhaps mail carriers, artists, miners, Indian or Spanish traders, or Latter-day Saint families, joined the Hinckley family for dinner. Afterward, everyone—Latter-day Saint or not—attended family prayer. At night the air might be filled with music as the cowboys sang around their campfire.
For more than twenty years the fort served an important function, but as times changed so did the need for the fort. By 1890 the Church leased out the fort and, after the turn of the century, sold it to the Otto Kesler family. Nearly one hundred years later, in 1989, the Hinckley family purchased the fort from the Keslers and made a gift of it to the Church as a historic site.2 Shortly afterward, efforts to restore the fort to its original condition were begun, and on 21 May 1994 President Gordon B. Hinckley, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the Historic Cove Fort Complex.
“It is our hope that Cove Fort will serve as a modern way station—not as a shelter from physical fatigue or protection from the elements,” said Elder Stephen D. Nadauld of the Seventy, who also spoke at the dedication. “Rather, we hope it will serve as a spiritual way station where we can be reminded of the faith of our forefathers, where we can refresh our sense of sacrifice and obedience and our dedication to duty, where we can be reminded of the values of work, provident living, self-sufficiency, and family unity.”