The town of Palmyra was created in January 1789. Palmyra originally included the present day town of Macedon, which was taken off in 1823. The town is comprised of just over 19,400 acres of undulating surface.
Originally known as Swift or Swift’s Landing, the town became the District of Tolland soon after settlement began. However, a meeting was held in January 1796 for the purpose of deciding upon an official name for the town. The historic name “Palmyra” was proposed and adopted without dissent.
The first settler in Palmyra was John Swift in 1789. John Swift built the first grist mill in the town, held the first militia training, organized and donated land for the first church, the first schoolhouse and the first burial ground. His son, Asa, was the first white male child born in the town.
Palmyra is regarded as the birthplace of the Mormon religion. In 1820 near Palmyra, fourteen year old Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by God, the Father, and Jesus Christ. An event the Mormons call “The First Vision”. In 1827, Joseph Smith is said to have been visited by the Angel Moroni and given a set of golden plates upon which were written the Book of Mormon. In 1830 in Fayette, New York, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was organized with a membership of six. Today the Church has a membership of over eleven million worldwide.
Palmyra also has ties to the renowned British statesman, Winston Churchill. Leonard Jerome, Churchill’s maternal grandfather was born in Pompey, New York, to Isaac and Aurora Murray Jerome. At a young age, Leonard made his way to Palmyra where his uncle, Hiram Jerome, had opened a law office. After saving money from his job as apprentice in a village store in Palmyra, Leonard left for Princeton in 1836, at age 19. While he was at college, Leonard’s parents moved
to a farm in Marion.
After completing his education and studying law for a time in Albany, Leonard moved back to Palmyra where he joined his uncle’s law practice as a partner. While living in Palmyra, Leonard met Clarissa Hall, daughter of Ambrose and Clarissa Wilcox Hall. The two married April 5, 1849.
After moving to Rochester and owning a newspaper with his family, Leonard was appointed Consul at Ravenna, Italy. When his term as Consul expired, the Jeromes moved back to the United States to live in Brooklyn. Here, on April 15, 1851, their daughter, Jenny, was born.
When she was thirteen, Jenny’s mother moved, with her daughters, to Paris for health reasons and to give her girls a good education. Several years later, while summering on the Isle of Wight, Jenny met Lord Randolph Churchill. It was love at first sight and Lord Randolph proposed three days later. They were married April 15, 1874. Their first child, Winston, was born later that year.
In addition to the above, Palmyra was home to many well-known citizens, such as Henry Wells of Wells Fargo fame, which later became part of the American Express Company. Admiral William Sampson was born in Palmyra in 1840. He graduated from Annapolis and served in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. Palmyra was also the home of Olin J. Garlock who invented the rubber packing gaskets which revolutionized the steam industry.
William Phelps General Store Museum, 140 Market Street
– A commercial building, erected in the late 1820s, houses the museum which gives you the sense of stepping back into a turn-of-the-century general store. It has remained intact with original merchandise on the main floor store and original
Phelps family furnishings and artifacts in their home in the upper floors. Open June-September, weekends 1-4 PM, or by appointment. (315) 597-6981
Alling Coverlet Museum, 122 William Street, Palmyra
– This museum houses the largest collection of woven coverlets in the United States. Included are coverlets by Palmyra weavers, James VanNess and Ira Hadsell. It also includes a display of handmade quilts, miniature rugs and spinning equipment. Open June – September, daily 1-4 pm, or by appointment. (315) 597-6981
Palmyra Historical Museum, 132 Market Street, Palmyra
– The Palmyra Historical Museum features a unique display of local memorabilia including elegant furniture and children’s toys. The building was originally a tavern and hotel at the turn of the century. Open June 1 – Mid September, Tuesday through Saturday 11- 4 p.m. Groups welcome and tours at other times by appointment. (315)597-6981
East & West Main Street Historic District
– The Palmyra Historic District comprises the area of Main Street on the south side from the west side of Canandaigua Street to a spot opposite the Junction with Canal Street on the east, and on the north side from the west side of church Street to Market Street on the east. Most of the structures date from the mid-19th century. The business district still retains a considerable amount of mid-19th century detail.
Market Street Historic District
– A one block long street running north-south between Main and Canal Streets. Market Street was laid out in 1828 and connected the Erie Canal to Palmyra’s Main Street. It was the canal related commercial center of early Palmyra.
* Zion Episcopal Church, 100 Main Street, Palmyra
– The corner stone for the present Zion Episcopal Church was laid July 16, 1872. At a cost of $44,738, the medina sandstone building was completed in 1873. On July 22, 1873, the first services in the new church building were held.
Martin Harris Farm, 2095 Maple Avenue, Palmyra
– An early convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Martin Harris mortgaged his Palmyra farm to fund the first printing of the Book of Mormon. Open year round. No inside tours.
Sacred Grove, Stafford Road, Palmyra
– Mormon historical site in which, it is said, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. Open to tour year round.
Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site, 217 East Main Street, Palmyra
– Print shop owned by E.B. Grandin in which he printed the first edition of the Book of Mormon. The first printing was completed in March of 1830. Open Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 7 pm; Sunday, 11 am – 7 pm.
Smith Family Home, Stafford Road, Palmyra
– Early home of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Open Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 7 pm; Sunday, 11 am – 7 pm.
Hill Cumorah Visitors Center, 603 Route 21 South
– Site at which, it is said, the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, also site of the famous Hill Cumorah Pageant each July. Open Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 7 pm; Sunday, 11 am – 7 pm. (315) 597-5851
East Palmyra Presbyterian Church, East Palmyra
– Organized in 1793 as a Congregational Church, this was the first church organized west of the Pre-Emption Line. The present church, constructed in 1864, is the third structure on the original property.
(* Listed on New York State and National Registers of Historical Places)