FILLMORE — A century and a half ago, it took territorial Gov. and LDS Church President Brigham Young days of travel over marginal "roads" to traverse the 150 miles from Great Salt Lake City to Fillmore — a site selected to be the vast Utah Territory's new capital because of its central location.
Saturday afternoon it took Brigham Young's modern successor, President Gordon B. Hinckley, just 23 minutes.
He got there in a jet, courtesy of industrialist Jon M. Huntsman.
"When you compare that with the miserable excursion in 1851 of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and their associates, it is almost impossible to believe," President Hinckley, leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told several hundred people gathered in the Territorial Statehouse State Park for Fillmore's sesquicentennial celebration.
The administrative/political heyday of Fillmore, Millard County — both named for Millard Fillmore, president of the United States at the time — was brief. The town, too distant from more populated northern Utah, lasted as the seat of government only until 1858, when the title returned to Great Salt Lake City.
"So far as I know, this is the only community in Utah that was established to accommodate the seat of territorial government" in Utah, said President Hinckley, whose family's own history in the area reaches back to pioneer days.
"I am grateful for this city," he said. "I never lived here, but from this place I trace my roots."
His grandfather, Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, helped build Cove Fort, 35 miles south of Fillmore, and was also an LDS stake president in Millard County for 25 years. His father, Bryant S. Hinckley, grew up in the area.
In the pioneer era, the frontier Fillmore area was primitive and difficult to live in. American Indians seemed a menace to settlers — hence the construction of Cove Fort — and other factors, including agricultural challenges, added to the harsh conditions. No plow had broken the ground in the rugged Pahvant Valley prior to Brigham Young's visit.
"Those pioneer men were possessed of great dreams," President Hinckley said. "A large capitol building was planned here in this outpost colony, with four wings and central dome. However, only one (wing) was built, and fortunately it still stands," he said. Today that structure is the sandstone centerpiece of Territorial Statehouse State Park.
"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," he said. "But Fillmore was launched, and it has not taken a backward step since. It has grown and flourished."
President Hinckley said the best product of Fillmore over the years has been its families, who have given service to the ends of the earth, in business, education, government and defense of the nation in war.
"It is well that on this 150th year you celebrate, remembering those who walked here long ago," he said. "This has been home to generations of men and women whose strong character, high values, significant accomplishments and great faith were virtues planted within their hearts by wonderful parents who were pioneers of Fillmore and Millard County. . . . May the future generations who come from this community be as strong as their noble forebears."
"Come, Come Ye Saints" was the program's opening song, and a local LDS choir sang "Faith in Every Footstep."
Saturday's program climaxed two days of special activities encompassing Fillmore's sesquicentennial and the community's annual Old Capitol Arts and Living History Festival. Historic displays, workshops, demonstrations and a Civil War re-enactment — complete with cannon fire — were part of the events.
President Hinckley was also able to make a quick stop before the program at his grandfather's home, which still stands just west of Main on Center Street in Fillmore.
At the conclusion of his remarks, the Millard County Daughters of Utah Pioneers presented President Hinckley with a biography of the pioneers in the area.
"I'll read it on the way home," he said.
"Wait," the jet-setting speaker said. "I can't read that fast."