The deed to historic Cove Fort, the only Utah pioneer fortress still standing, was presented to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a Saturday ceremony.

Situated on U.S. 91, adjacent to the I-15 and I-70 interchanges, the stone fort was built in 1867 by Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, then of Coalville. Hinckley was given the assignment by Brigham Young, who had been the first governor of the territory and was church president.The property has changed ownership over the years, but descendants of Ira Hinckley recently organized the Cove Fort Acquisition and Restoration Foundation and acquired the fort and 11 surrounding acres with water rights.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the church's First Presidency, spoke at the ceremony. His grandfather was Ira N. Hinckley.

President Hinckley told the gathering he hoped that those who stop their comfortable cars to rest there "realize that those who built and maintained this outpost in the wilderness did so out of a great and compelling sense of dedication."

Part of the reason for construction of the fort was to protect mail stations and travelers from Indians in southern Utah, according to an 1867 letter from Brigham Young to Ira Hinckley.

For a decade after the fort was built, Ira Hinckley managed it and raised his family there. The church maintained ownership until the early 1900s, when then-President Joseph F. Smith sold the property, which had grown to several hundred acres, to the William H. Kesler family. The fort for many years continued to be a major way station and hostelry between Salt Lake City, St. George and Los Angeles.

"It was operated by good samaritans who gave succor to those in need. Hunger was satisfied here. Wounds were dressed. Comfort and hope were spoken. And there was prayer," President Hinckley said. "Each morning and each night there was prayer. Gratitude was expressed for the gift of life. Gratitude was expressed for the challenges of life.

"Forgiveness was asked for any word or deed evil spoken or illy done to another. Pleadings were offered to God our Eternal Father for strength to do the work of the day, for faith to go forward in the face of adversity, for blessings of rain and sunlight."

President Hinckley said that while the fort is being given back to the church, it will not serve the needs for which it was constructed.

"It will serve another need," he said. "That is the need for a reminder to this generation and to generations yet to come that there were once people who worked and walked here, for whom faith was more important than life itself, and whose confidence in the reality of God our Father and the risen lord Jesus Christ was a stronger force than any other element in their lives."

Among many early Utah forts, only Cove Fort remains.