It was a good day to leave Ely, Nevada, on Saturday, August 4, 2018. After three days of clear skies, we woke up to hazy smoke that blocked the view of the hills only a quarter mile away. We continued on our easterly route stopping in Fillmore, Utah, for two nights, giving us one full day for exploring.
Territorial Statehouse State Park Museum
Brigham Young designated Fillmore as the first Utah Capitol on September 8, 1851. Construction of the south wing of the building started in 1852. Grand plans called for a much larger facility than the one that still stands today. The fifth territorial legislature used the building on October 10, 1855, then in 1856 Salt Lake City became the home of the state government, eliminating the need for the larger building in Fillmore.
The building served as a courthouse and county headquarters and housed a Presbyterian Mission School for several years after the Civil War. The primary goal of the school was eliminating polygamy and educating children. The education part worked out fine, eliminating polygamy, not so much. Although the discontinuance of the plural marriages practice was approved by the church’s general conference in 1890, existing marriages continued until the 1940s and 1950s.
Restored in 1928, The Territorial Statehouse was dedicated as a state museum on July 24, 1930, for visitors to enjoy, except on Sundays and major holidays when it is closed.
The park setting also includes a rock schoolhouse and a few cabins. Informational signs outside of the buildings explain their origin and use.
The first public school in Fillmore, the Old Rock schoolhouse built in 1870, was used by the school district until 1971 when it became part of the state park in 1972.
If our timing had been different, we could have seen inside the museum where artifacts include military weapons, pioneer-era tools, a jail cell, musical instruments, and antique china, pottery, and textile displays. Instead, I had to be content to take photos through the windows of the inside of the schoolhouse, which worked out better than I thought when I clicked the shutter button.
Our next stop was Cove Fort, an interesting historical site run by the LDS church. Elder Ray Turley was our guide and a wealth of historical information and stories. Elder Turley gave us a personal tour of the fort, walking us in and out of each of the rooms, leading us to the garden and the barn, all the while explaining how the fort was built, and telling stories about the family who occupied the property.
The fort, constructed with four-feet thick walls made of volcanic rock found nearby, housed the Hinckley family who moved to the area to develop a waypoint between Salt Lake City and St. George, Utah. It provided a place for travelers to rest and have a hot meal.
He also told stories that brought the site to life, even a personal anecdote about bringing his wife to the fort before its restoration for a romantic camping adventure. He thought himself clever when he set up their newly purchased tent under a tree at the corner of the fort walls, shielded from the wind. When they returned home, his wife showed him what she thought of the trip by burning the tent. They travel in an air-conditioned RV these days.
Elder Turley hinted that the sister wives were not always happy with the plural marriage arrangement when he told about Ira Hinckley, the patriarch. Ira was married to four women, but no more than three at any one time. He took over the church-owned ranch and built the fort with the help of his brother and other men in 7 months during 1867.
Living quarters included a room for the traveling men, a room for the Hinckley boys, and another for the girls.
Ira’s wife Adelaide, their five children, and Ira’s oldest daughter from a previous marriage moved in during 1868, followed by Ira’s wife Angeline (also Adelaide’s sister) and her four children the following month. I sure wouldn’t be happy about sharing a husband with my sister so I could imagine the cold stares and arguments that might have ensued while everyone was busy with their household chores.
Although the fort was built to protect against attacks from American Indians, interaction with the neighboring Ute tribe produced only peaceful meetings. The Indians sometimes came to the fort to trade with Ira and were treated as guests often enjoying a good meal during their visit.
By 1872 stagecoaches stopped at the fort twice a day requiring the preparation of food as well as taking care of the horses. The railroads arrived by 1881, reducing the need for the fort and by 1890 the Hinckley family left the area. The church leased the property to other ranchers and eventually sold out to free up funds for other projects. Unfortunately, the fort was left in ruins by the time descendants of the Hinckley family formed the Cove Fort Acquisition and Restoration Foundation and deeded the property back to the church. After restoring the fort to its earlier glory, including furnishing the rooms in the period similar to when the Hinckley’s lived there, the church reopened Cove Fort as a historic site in 1994.
The original barn had long since deteriorated by the time the renovations began, however, plans were located. Those in charge of the renovations were interested in having the barn built using the same tongue and groove construction from the 1800s so they contracted with an Amish group to build the barn using wooden dowel rods rather than metal plates and nails. Once built, the barn was disassembled and trucked across the country to its new home at Cove Fort.
I commented to Elder Turley that I had seen the handcarts at the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City the year before and was amazed that families would carry all of their possessions in a handcart as they traveled across the plains on their way to Utah. He replied that the handcarts were actually the fastest mode of transportation at that time traveling up to 3 miles per hour, compared to horses at 2 miles per hour and oxen at 1-1/2 miles per hour. Hearing that, I think I would have chosen the handcarts too had it been me. Thankfully, these days we travel up to 70 miles per hour and pull our bathroom, kitchen, living area, and bedroom behind us. I’m not sure I would have traveled at all if I’d have to do it with a handcart.
We enjoyed learning about the history of Fillmore, Utah, and Cove Fort during our short stay, although we missed out on the museum. It was time, however, to continue our drive east. Next stop is Torrey, Utah, and Capital Reef National Park.
6 thoughts on “Territorial Statehouse in Fillmore, Utah, and Cove Fort”
The tool on the window sill looks like it was used to keep vampires away!
Oh, that’s funny. 🤗
Interesting post! Just learned on “Jeopardy” that Brigham Young had 55 wives & 57 children. Those kids had the schoolhouse all to themselves!
It was definitely an interesting time in the history of our country.
Great post – you took me there! I remember visiting that courthouse as a child on a family road trip. I’m almost as old as it is. 🙂 🙂
Thanks, Jan for commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip down memory lane.
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