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Church history preserved just off I-15 at Cove Fort

Published: Thursday, May 15 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

The courtyard of Cove Fort in the winter.

Provided by Kathleen Christensen

Cove Fort is still welcoming travelers after nearly a century and a half.

What was first established as a way station for travelers through the desert is now a place where interstate travelers can learn more about life in the 19th century and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder H. Clark Christensen and Sister Kathleen F. Christensen helped to welcome the nearly 70,000 visitors to Historic Cove Fort in Millard County last year. Since Cove Fort is located at the intersection of I-15 and I-70, many people who visit are simply taking a break from a road trip and know nothing about the fort’s history or about the LDS Church.

“It’s different here because we have so many visitors that stop and they’re not members of our faith,” said Kathleen Christensen, who along with her husband has been serving as a director for Cove Fort since January 2013. “So we’re able to talk to them about the gospel and the church and able to give them (copies of the Book of Mormon) if they want, or brochures or DVDs, and so we introduce quite a few people to the church.”

The history of Cove Fort, as recounted by missionaries serving at the site and a pamphlet titled “Cove Fort: Historic Site," began 20 years after the first group of Latter-day Saint pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. As small towns across the territory were established, it became increasingly important for the Saints to communicate and to have the occasional place of refuge.

In April 1867, President Brigham Young wrote a letter to Ira Hinckley, who was the grandfather of future LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. Ira Hinckley was asked to leave his home and family in Coalville, Utah, and travel the then-220 mile journey south to the area of Cove Creek, according to “Cove Fort: Historic Site."

President Young asked Hinckley to construct a fort that would help connect the neighboring towns of Beaver, to the south, and Fillmore, to the north. After eight months of work with stonemasons and various types of tradesmen, the fort was completed.

Hinckley’s family then moved to Cove Fort, the place that would become their home for the next decade. When Hinckley and his family were needed elsewhere, his brother Arza took over managing the property.

The fort, which was built with bedrooms and accommodations for the Hinckley family as well as travelers, was complete with a telegraph room and a post office — making it a communications hub. Telegraph wires ran from Logan to St. George, and the construction of Cove Fort made it possible for President Young to communicate with leaders at the fort.

For more than 20 years, Cove Fort housed travelers who would pay a small sum for meals, a bed or floor space to sleep on and a place to keep their animals. Hinckley’s family managed the fort and the housework, which included using the gardens to grow crops and caring for the animals in the large barn. Hinckley also ran a blacksmith shop at Cove Fort.

The fort thrived, as two stagecoaches would arrive each day with new passengers and new challenges to be met.

In 1890, Cove Fort was no longer needed as a way station for travelers. The property was sold and passed down through families until 1988, when descendants of Ira and Arza Hinckley purchased Cove Fort and donated it to the LDS Church as a historic site.

In 1994, President Hinckley dedicated the refurbished site. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the dedication.

Last year, exactly 69,981 people visited Cove Fort, according to Clark Christensen. These visitors came from 62 countries and all 50 states.

The Christensens explained how Cove Fort often attracts visitors simply because of its historic nature.

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