THE RETURN TO PALMYRA
Approximately 85 years after the first saints were forced to leave the Palmyra area, a young Mormon couple returned and took up residence in the Joseph Smith home. Newlyweds Willard and Rebecca Bean were called as missionaries to leave their home in Richfield, Utah, move to Palmyra, farm the land, make friends, preach the gospel, baptize converts, and organize a branch of the church. They were set apart for “five years or more”. They served nearly 25 years arriving in Palmyra as newlyweds and leaving as grandparents.
In the following video Alvin Bean, the oldest son of Willard and Rebecca, talks about growing up on the Joseph Smith farm, his dad purchasing the Hill, reforesting the Hill, and meeting a young missionary named Gordon Hinckley who stopped by on his way home from England.
PURCHASING THE HILL
Willard Bean facilitated the purchase of several important church historical sites in and around Palmyra. One of the most interesting transactions was the purchase of the Hill Cumorah.
The following is from the personal journal of Willard Washington Bean.
When I arrived in Palmyra, with my family, in 1914, to take over the Joseph Smith farm and act as caretaker, we found the sentiment toward Joseph Smith not unlike that which prevailed at Nazareth toward the Master when he began his earthly ministry. I realized more than ever before the full significance of Jesus’ saying: “No prophet is accepted in his own country.” Joseph Smith was commonly referred to as a tow-headed, illiterate dreamer and fortune teller, an idle jack-knife swapper, a musk-rat and wood-chuck trapper, a chicken thief, sheep thief, smoke purloiner, visionary gold digger, etc.
And they could prove it to their entire satisfaction from the accepted history of Wayne County, which has a wilfully and contemptibly written chapter on the Smith family and Mormonism. This was read by each generation as it grew up, and the junior and senior high school students seemed to pride themselves in basing one of their oratoricals each year on this particular chapter. It was a popular theme, as the history was taken at face value. It also mentions, among other things, that an attempt was made in 1830 to proselyte the people of Palmyra to “Joe Smith’s delusions,” and Oliver Cowdery gave a talk in the ”Young Men’s Club” hall, but met with so cold a reception that he never made a second attempt and “Palmyra is well rid of a bad lot.”
So, naturally, when the good people of Palmyra learned that a Mormon family had settled on the old Smith homestead near Palmyra, they were a little curious to see us, but didn’t seem to warm up much toward their new neighbors. But that was quite natural and rather to be expected, especially after I had familiarized myself with local history and listened to the old stories that had been handed down from one generation to another. We were pointed out and discussed in all assemblies. Another thing that possibly gave occasion for some of the more fertile imaginations to work overtime on gossip, was that my [second] wife happens to be some years younger than myself, and we brought two children, 12 and 14 years of age, from a former marriage. This, of course, was the latest addition to my harem, and that it was customary to live with each new one for seven years, etc. To help keep this gospel alive, five different anti-Mormon lecturers were booked to lecture in the churches on the four corners. Resolutions were passed by various auxiliary organizations of the churches, farmers’ grange association, etc., pledging themselves to discourage any attempt at Mormon propaganda and to show their disapproval by non-attendance.
But they soon learned to tolerate us and, in time, to respect us; and, finally, decided that we were good citizens and an asset to the community. About five years ago [abt. 1923] we purchased the J.H. Inglis farm, consisting of 97 acres, situated on the state highway and taking in part of the hill Cumorah. About three years ago [abt. 1925] we negotiated a deal whereby we came into possession of the Peter Whitmer farm in Fayette, Seneca County. This farm consists of 100 acres, and is historic by reason of its being the birth place of the Church, where part of the Book of Mormon was translated, where a number of the early revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants were received, and where the three special witnesses saw the angel Moroni and the gold plates.
While Pliny T. Sexton was alive, he phoned me to call at his office as he had a matter of interest to our people to talk over with me.
President Grant and his counselor, C. W. Nibley, accompanied Willard to visit with Sexton at his bank. The banker suggested a price of $100,000 for the purchase of the hill. Willard told Sexton he had been listening to tales of the fabulous wealth of the Mormon Church and informed him that the Church had done quite well without the hill for nearly a hundred years and would continue to do so until a more realistic offer was made.
As they drove back to the farm, President Nibley said, “When the Lord wants us to get possession of that hill, the way will be opened up.”
Again from Willard’s journal:
Subsequently, he [Sexton] died, leaving his vast property accumulations to one hundred two heirs, the nearest of kin being two nieces. When the question of disposing of the hill Cumorah property came up, certain of the principal heirs, influenced, more or less, by prejudice, were opposed to selling it to the Mormons at any price and were even willing to lose their share, if need be, to keep it from falling into our hands. Death removed some of those opposed and, early in the present year , it seemed that the coast was about clear of obstacles. I had a talk with the attorney who represented some of the more obstreperous ones and during the next meeting of the executors and heirs, or their representatives, there was no protest registered. The attorney for the estate called me by phone and wanted to see me at once. He seemed ready and eager to talk business; was in a very pleasant mood. After examining a number of propositions, one came up that I thought we might accept. I told him to put it in writing, sign it and get the other executor (one had previously died) to sign it, and I would make a deposit if necessary, and start negotiations. The agreement was written and signed. I went home and immediately wrote to the authorities, enclosing the proposition with signed agreement, asking them to consider it if they felt that the right time had arrived for us to acquire the hill Cumorah. This was on February 2, and, in a few days, I received the following letter, dated also February 2:
“See lawyer of Sexton estate and get definite offer for Hill Cumorah alone if possible, if not with adjacent properties. Put it in writing and put up forfeit and let us hear from you at earliest convenience.”
The letter was signed by each member of the First Presidency – President Heber J. Grant, A. W. Ivins and C. W. Nibley. By the time the First Presidency’s letter arrived, Willard had already gotten the offer they requested.
The following day Willard received a telegram reading:
“Terms satisfactory. Close deal.”
Willard remembered President Nibley’s words when he said, “When the Lord wants us to get possession of that hill, the way will be opened up.”
President Grant remarked at General Conference in Salt Lake City, “We have recently come into possession of the Hill Cumorah, and it looks very much like it came about providentially.”
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Hill Cumorah in Autumn — CastleGate Media LLC
Main Street Palmyra — Fellowcrafts Studio
Hill with horse and buggy — From the Willard and Rebecca Bean family collection
Heber J. Grant with others — From the Willard and Rebecca Bean family collection