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Territorial capital celebrates 150th

FILLMORE, Utah — One hundred fifty years after President Brigham Young designated this location in south-central Utah as the territorial capital for what was then called the "State of Deseret," President Gordon B. HInckley addressed a crowd of residents and visitors observing the town's sesquicentennial Sept. 8.


On grounds of old capitol in Fillmore, audience applauds for President Gordon B. Hinckley.
On grounds of old capitol in Fillmore, audience applauds for President Gordon B. Hinckley. Photo: Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

The designation on Oct. 7, 1851, of Fillmore as the territorial seat of government was short-lived. After a year, it was determined that the capital would have to be moved back to Salt Lake City for convenience.

Even so, a stately structure at the intersection of Main and Center streets in Fillmore remains, a portion of what was to have been a capitol with four identical wings joined in a domed center. The existing structure, which was to have been the west wing, is now used as a museum.

On the grounds of that old statehouse, revelers gathered for the fifth annual Old Capitol Arts and Living History Festival Sept. 7-8, which observed the sesquicentennial. It included exhibits from artists, a historic home tour, horse-drawn wagon rides, antique auto display, Native American dancers, a mountain man camp, Civil War re-enactment and live cannon fire.

"It's good to come to Fillmore again," President Hinckley told the crowd, alluding to his family roots in the city. His grandfather, Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, was called by Brigham Young in 1867 to supervise the building of Cove Fort. Ten years later, President Wilford Woodruff called Ira Hinckley to serve as president of the Millard Stake, in which office he served for 25 years. He was also a patriarch in the stake.

Just before his arrival to address the program, President Hinckley took a few minutes to visit the home of his grandfather, which still stands, located on Center Street across from the old capitol grounds where the celebration was held.

"I came here this afternoon in 23 minutes," he told the audience, "from takeoff at the Salt Lake airport to touchdown at the Fillmore airstrip. When you compare that with the miserable coming here of Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball and others in 1851, you can't help having in your heart a great sense of appreciation."

Noting that, so far as he knows, Fillmore is the only community in Utah that was established to accommodate the seat of territorial government, he traced some of its history.

President Gordon B. Hinckley poses near Fillmore home once owned by his grandfather.
President Gordon B. Hinckley poses near Fillmore home once owned by his grandfather. Photo: Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

"It is very interesting to me that at that time and a little later there was no settlement. . . . Four years earlier in the Salt Lake Valley, President Young had planted his cane to mark the site of a temple. Here he planted his cane to mark the site of a new territorial capital. A new county was also created, with the county and the city bearing the two names of the president of the United States, Millard Fillmore. I do not know of another place where this has occurred anywhere else in the nation. Those pioneer men were possessed of great dreams. . . . The political leaders, who were also the Church leaders, decided it was too difficult to come so far, and Salt Lake City again became and has remained the capital city of Utah. But Fillmore was launched."

He spoke of his grandfather being called in 1857 to go to Cove Creek and build a fort as protection. "In a period of nine months, with little more than a plumb bob and a spirit level, a hammer and a saw, he and his associates built the stone fort and the barn. I may say parenthetically that when the Hinckley family reacquired the fort to restore it for presentation to the Church, it took a great deal longer to do the work and cost many times what the original fort and barn had cost."

President Hinckley spoke of his grandfather's service as stake president and of his going to Arizona to help establish the city of Snowflake, where a temple will soon be located. A well-to-do man, Ira Hinckley gave generously to help establish a Church academy.

His father, Bryant, left Fillmore to work for his brother-in-law in the mining community of Frisco, a "tough and mean place," President Hinckley said. Taking a job as a school teacher, Bryant one day reprimanded a boy for whistling in class. The boy came after him with a hatchet.

"The two wrestled, and father finally got the hatchet," he said. "He told the boy to leave the school and not come back. A few days later the boy's mother came to him to apologize for her son and to ask Father to take him back. He said he would do so only if the entire class voted for him. He then made a plea to the class to extend mercy. The boy came, and all the students voted to let him return. That changed the whole picture. That boy became a staunch friend."

Many years later, Bryant Hinckley was taking the train from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. A man came up to him in the Pullman car and introduced himself as the belligerant boy from Frisco. "He said he was now the special agent on that division, that is, the chief security officer of the railroad. He thanked Father for turning him around, for saving his life from the course he was following, and for planting some ambition in him."

President Hinckley said: "It is well, my dear friends, that on this 150th year you celebrate, remembering those who walked here long ago. This has been home to generations of men and women whose strong character, high values, significant accomplishments and great faith were virtues planted within the hearts by wonderful parents who were pioneers of Fillmore and Millard County. . . . May the future generations who come from this community ever be as strong as their noble forebears. May they hold high the torch of achievement and faith lighted by those pioneers who lived and struggled here a century and a half ago.

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