The first settlers in this area were the family of Charles W. and Eleanor Willden. They were English converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had come to Utah in 1849. Because Charles was an iron worker, Brigham Young called him to work in the Cedar City iron mission in the 1850s. Willden, like many others, camped here at Cove Creek on the way to his assignment. After the iron works closed down, Charles acquired 160 acres here to establish a farm and way station.
The Willdens planted five cottonwood trees and started construction of “Fort Willden” here on the bank of Cove Creek in 1860. They erected an adobe house and a corral, enclosing both in a 150-foot-square cedar post stockade. They also raised a crop of grain. Before retreating to Beaver for the winter, they “cached” their grain for spring planting, carefully storing it for their return.
Their newlywed daughter and her husband were trapped here by a late winter snowstorm in 1861. Because the adobe house had no coverings over the windows, the couple built a small dugout cabin for shelter and warmth and subsisted on the grain cached there in the fall.
In the spring the whole family moved back and built a two-room home in the eight-to-ten-foot-high stockade. Many travelers found Fort Willden a convenient stopover between Salt Lake City and St. George, and the ranch-fort thrived for a few years.
After a harsh winter and with the growing threat of the Blackhawk war, the Willdens abandoned the fort in 1865. Early in 1867 the deserted fort was used to set up an office of the Deseret Telegraph. Later that year the Cove Fort pioneers arrived, and for several years they used Fort Willden as part of their larger complex.