President Heber J. Grant went to Palmyra several years later to check on the possibilities of acquiring the hill. President Grant and his counselor, C. W. Nibley, accompanied Willard to visit with Pliny Sexton at his bank. The owner suggested a price of $100,000 for the purchase of the hill. Willard jokingly accused the ambitious banker of “listening tell 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.
President Nibley was non-communicative as they drove back to the farm. Finally he confided, “When the Lord wants us to get possession of that hill, the way will be opened up.”
And opened up it was. Mr. Sexton died, and his estate fell into the hands of distant nieces who pledged never to sell to the Mormons at any price. One by one, the nieces passed away. The lawyer of the Sexton estate, Mr. C. C. Congdon, called Willard to his office one afternoon in late February 1928 and announced that an opportune time had come to make arrangements for the purchase of the hill.
In the final analysis, Willard purchased the Hill Cumorah, three farms bordering the hill, and Grange Hall, a building which made a fine chapel for the saints, all for $53,000. There was over 600 acres of land. The buildings alone were worth $10,000. The final purchase was made for a fraction of the original asking price.
Willard’s letter to the First Presidency crossed in the mail with a telegram from Salt Lake saying:
“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 telegram was signed by each member of the First Presidency – President Heber J. Grant, A. W. Ivins and C. W. Nibley. Willard observed that the telegram was dated the same day he had written to them, and it requested that he do something he had just done in every detail.
The following day Willard received another telegram as follows:
“Terms satisfactory. Close deal.”
Willard reflected on President Nibley’s words when he said, “When the Lord wants us to get possession of that hill, the way will be opened up.” No wonder President Grant remarked at General Conference in the Tabernacle, “We have recently come into possession of the Hill Cumorah, and it looks very much like it came about providentially.”
In the ensuing years, Willard was instrumental in acquiring the Martin Harris and Peter Whitmer farms. He was responsible for reforesting the Hill Cumorah in an effort to restore it to the natural beauty that existed there when the prophet received the gold plates. Willard, assisted by his three sons, a brother, Virginius, local missionaries and hired hands, planted 65,000 little evergreen trees in addition to 3,000 small hardwood trees – the latter being dug up from the outskirts of the Sacred Grove. Today a mighty forest has grown on that picturesque church landmark. — Vicki Bean Topliff, Willard Bean, the Fighting Parson, pp. 76-77