It is easy to imagine the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint have always owned the land of important Church History Sites, but the opposite is true, and how the Chuech obtained the land of important Church restoration sites is always by a series of miracles.
The story of obtaining the land of the Smith Family Home, The Palmyra Temple and the Sacred Grove is a pretty awesome and it is because of a man named Willard Bean aka “The Fighting Parson” and help from Heavenly Father.
In 1907, Elder George Albert Smith, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles(who later became prophet), befriended the man that owned the land where the old Smith Farm was located. The man who owned the Smith Farm at the time was named William Avery Chapman, and he owned the original 110 acres.
Elder George Albert Smith ended up negotiating and buying the Smith Family Farm for $20,000 in 1907. Avery Chapman was allowed to stay on the land for a year after the deal closed, but he ended up living on the land for seven years.
The deed was not recorded in the name of the church, but instead it was recorded in the name of George Albert Smith and his wife Lucy Smith. This was done to avoid further animosity towards the Church.
It was 9 years later that the land was deeded back to the church for 1$.
Later, the prophet Joseph F. Smith was looking for someone to stay on the land once Avery Chapman left.
This is when we learn about how influential Willard Bean or also known as ”the fighting parson”.
Willard Bean, The “Fighting Preacher.”
On the website willardbean.com they said this about Willard and Rebecca Bean:
“Willard was also an accomplished boxer, athlete, gymnast and scriptorian. Due to his fierce competitive nature, unwavering defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and never failing love for his fellow man, he became widely know as “The fighting Parson”. Rebecca, while generally not preferring the attention, was as dedicated and steadfast in her testimony of The Gospel as was Willard. She would stand beside him and take all manner of abuse, never backing down from what she knew to be true and bearing open testimony of the truth. She was a beautiful singer and willingly opened her home weekly to people of all faiths, beliefs and creeds. She was well known for her cooking throughout the Eastern United States and it was not uncommon for her kitchen to feed several hundreds of visitors in the course of a week.
The people who lived in the Palmyra, New York were angry with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints coming back to the area in the early 1900’s. Willard and his wife, Rebecca Petersen were the first members of the Church to live in that area for 84 years!
At the time that Joseph F. Smith was looking for someone to stay on the Smith Family land there was a church conference in Richfield, Utah. The day of the conference Willard and Rebecca Bean were called to serve a mission in Palmyra, New York.
President Smith said this about calling Willard:
“When Willard stepped in that door, the impression was so strong—it was just like a voice said to me, ‘There’s your man.’ “When he set the couple apart for missionary work, the prophet warned them of the difficulties they would face but also said “Willard, knowing you and your missionary work and your fighting spirit, I’m sure you are the right man to send.”
When they were called to serve, the prophet informed them, they will have a two part mission: first, was to preach the gospel, and second to make friends in the upstate New York area, for the Church.
This sweet family of Willard and Rebecca Bean were faced with anger and animosity, as soon as they entered the area. They even had to buy groceries in a different town because the shop owners were so mean to them.
The Bean family ended up helping soften the hearts of the people in the town and were instrumental in obtaining the land of Hill Cumorah, Martin Harris home and the Peter Whitmer Farm.
They were called for ”five years or more.” The mission ended up being a lot “more.” They were in their 25 year of service when they got their release!
Regular People Making The Difference
The childhood home of Joseph Smith Home is so important to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Not only is this land the location of the very begining of the restoration of the gospel but it is also the land that the Palmyra Temple is on today. It is a sacred site for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The early 1900’s was not an easy time for members of the church in the Palmyra Area. The “fighting parson” and his family healed some of the hard feelings of the people of the area. His resilience and passion helped make the area what it is today. The difference that one family can make on the world is really evident with this sweet family.
It is pretty amazing how the Lord works to accomplish His work, through ordinary, good righteous people!
There is a movie that came out in 2019, called “The Fighting Preacher” and it is the story of this wonderful man, Willard Bean and his family. It goes through what he and his family accomplished in helping the relations of the Saints and the people of the Palmyra Area.
More Blog Posts:
Places to Visit:
Martin Harris Home
”The Lion and a Lamb” By Rand H. Packer
“Willard Bean Palmyra’s “Fighting Parson””: Ensign June 1985 by Vicki Bean Zimmerman