Hidden Treasures in Palmyra
For Latter-day Saints there are many things to see in Palmyra, NY, such as the Joseph Smith Farm, the Sacred Grove and the Hill Cumorah. When Mormon families make the trek east they make their list and see them all. But there are a few other things to see that are worth your while.
Palmyra has a rich history dating back to the early 1700s and that history is brought to life in four great little museums. Three of them are located together on Market St. (right behind the Grandin building) and the third is just through the parking lot on William St. You can walk through all four of these museums in a couple hours or, as happens to many visitors, you may get caught up in the history and take much longer.
The staff is friendly and informed and able to point out things of interest to their Mormon visitors.
The Palmyra Historical Museum is a former hotel and has 23 themed rooms that tell the story of Palmyra’s 200-year influence on America. Everyone knows about Palmyra’s connection to Joseph Smith and the birth of Mormonism, but few people know about Palmyra’s connection to the Underground Railroad, Women’s Suffrage, or the Erie Canal. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill even had a family connection to Palmyra.
The Print Shop Museum displays some of the finest examples of early printing presses and equipment you’ll find in one location. In 1856 John M. Jones arrived in Palmyra and began producing printing equipment. Presses manufactured in Palmyra changed the printing business in America.
The Print Shop Museum is the perfect companion to the Grandin Building tour. See how the Book of Mormon was printed, then walk out the back door right to the Print Shop Museum and see how printing evolved over the decades that followed.
The Wm. Phelps General Store served as a tavern, bakery, boarding house and general store. William Phelps built the store in 1826. In 1940 his son Julius closed up shop. He didn’t have a going-out-of-business sale; he just locked the doors and walked away. Today walking through the front door is like walking into 1940. The items that were on the shelves when Julius walked away are still there. There is even a crate of eggs still sitting on the counter. It’s like The Twilight Zone, but in a really, really good way.
For Mormons, the Phelps store is an interesting visit because the Smith family would have shopped here between 1826 and 1830.
The largest collection of American hand woven coverlets is found in the Alling Coverlet Museum. The coverlets in this collection are truly beautiful works of art, intricately woven patterns in stunning colors. There are also many quilts on display which are a wonderful representation of that great American folk art. In addition to the many beautiful coverlets and quilts, the museum has looms, spinning wheels and other weaver’s tools. You’ll even see a dress worn by Julia Dent Grant when she and her husband President Ulysses S. Grant attended a ball in Palmyra.
An informative video presentation is available to learn more about the history and art of weaving. The gift shop has books, woven goods and unique gift ideas.
Many scholars believe Book of Mormon events took place in North America. The Hill Cumorah in Palmyra is the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon. The Finger Lakes region is the Land of Many Waters spoken of by Mormon.
Book of Mormon researcher and geographer Wayne May has loaned hundreds of artifacts to this display. It is a wonderful collection of arrowheads and spearheads, copper tools, effigy stones, and much more. The bookstore is located at 213 E. Main St., near the Grandin Building.
If you have been to Palmyra you have probably been to Alvin Smith’s Grave on a small hill on Church Street. Many people wonder why Alvin was buried in such a small graveyard. This small hill was also the sight of the first Church in Palmyra (1811-1832), so the graveyard would have been connected to the church. This hill was also the location of the first school in Palmyra (1793-1805). If that’s the only cemetery you visit in town, you’re missing out.
The Palmyra City Cemetery is just a few blocks from Alvin Smith’s grave. This beautiful cemetery at 272 N. Vienna St. is the final resting place to several people important to LDS history. The small streets in the cemetery have clearly posted street names, making it easy to find graves.
Lucy Harris, wife of Martin Harris, is one of the first graves you will come to. It is located next to the groundskeeper’s shed on the east side of the cemetery. Martin Harris mortgaged his farm to pay for the first printing of the Book of Mormon. Martin’s dedication to Joseph Smith and the church led to the couple’s separation.
E. B. Grandin and his wife Harriet are buried at Elm St. and Linden Ave. Mr. Grandin was the publisher of the first edition of the Book of Mormon in 1830. 5,000 copies were printed at a cost of $3,000. Grandin was the publisher of the Palmyra newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel. He died at a young age. He was barely 39.
Pliny T. Sexton was a Palmyra banker who owned several properties in and around Palmyra including the Hill Cumorah. He once hosted a dinner party in Palmyra with Mark Twain as guest of honor. Although he was ruthless in business dealings, he had a soft spot for children and the less fortunate. He provided shoes to Palmyra’s needy children, and supported many other charitable causes. He bequeathed the city park to the village of Palmyra in the hope that it would promote “social unity, mutual improvement, general welfare and happiness.” Mr. Sexton is buried at Birch Dr. and Oak St.
Phyllis Bean — In 1915 newlyweds Willard and Rebecca Bean were called by President Joseph F. Smith to live in the Joseph Smith home and re-establish the church. Paul and Phyllis, children of Willard’s from a previous marriage, were teenagers when the family arrived in Palmyra. Phyllis passed away while the family was still in Palmyra. She is buried at Magnolia St. and Maple St.
Although not well known outside of Palmyra, the story of the Bean family is a favorite of missionaries and local church members. Phyllis’s grave is cared for by missionaries and there are always beautiful flowers at her headstone.
On your next trip to the birthplace of the Church, set aside a day for getting to know the beautiful and historic Village of Palmyra.
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