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.

“You see the brown freeway signs that say, ‘Historic Cove Fort,’ ” Clark Christensen said. “There aren’t that many preserved forts from the 1860s in the United States, so it’s a very interesting place for people to stop and just get a historical overview of what was the West like, what were living conditions like in 1867. People often stop for that, and then they’re introduced to the church, so they kind of go hand in hand.”

There is a distinct feeling that time has stood still on the property.

Much of Cove Fort has been preserved exactly the way it was when Ira Hinckley first began working there 147 years ago. The fort’s original doors are still intact, and the original trees that were planted in 1867 still stand in the courtyard.

The authentic logs from Ira Hinckley’s old cabin in Coalville were used in the reconstruction of the cabin on Cove Fort property. Much of the furniture on display in each of Cove Fort’s 12 rooms is either authentic or accurately reflects the time period when it would have been used.

Senior missionary couples who live on or near the grounds of Cove Fort serve as tour guides for the historic property’s guests. Missionary work is a big part of Cove Fort's operations. Members of the LDS faith are given a chance to send postcards describing their thoughts and feelings about the historic site and the gospel. Visitors who are not LDS are offered copies of the Book of Mormon, pamphlets and supplemental DVDs if they wish to learn more.

“After we’ve served here for a short time, we can understand why President Hinckley and the Hinckley family were so endeared to this place,” Clark Christensen said.

At the end of every summer, visitors can also attend the annual celebration “Cove Fort Days,” which allows families to experience a piece of living history. Demonstrations show what it was like at Cove Fort during the 19th century, and visitors can ride stagecoaches and horse-drawn wagons. This year’s “Cove Fort Days” will be Friday, Aug. 1, and Saturday, Aug. 2. Food will be provided and the event is free and open to the public.

Email: kguderian@deseretnews.com