Palmyra (New York)

Four corners, four steeples

Palmyra is a village and surrounding town in the Finger Lakes region of New York. In the nineteenth century, it was a center for religious revivalism, but today it's one of the most-visited villages along the Erie Canal. Palmyra is the birthplace of the Latter-Day Saint movement (also known as Mormonism) and claims to be the only community in the U.S. that has a four-corner intersection with a church at each one.

Understand

In the late 1780s, a group of settlers from Connecticut tried to stake the state's claim to land in northeastern Pennsylvania, due to overlapping provincial charters. Among those Connecticuters was one John Swift, a Revolutionary War veteran. In 1789, with the venture in Pennsylvania bearing little fruit, Swift decamped for Western New York, where the Phelps and Gorham Purchase had large tracts of land for sale.

He purchased a tract (as did his fellow John Jenkins, though Swift soon bought him out) and in 1790 became the first permanent resident of what is now the Town of Palmyra. Swift's land was centered on Ganargua Creek, and the community that sprouted up was initially known as Swift's Landing.

After a brief period known as Tolland, Swift's brother-in-law proposed the name Palmyra, and that is how the town was incorporated in 1796. The town center grew slowly until 1825, when the Erie Canal opened. The canal's route took it right through Palmyra, necessitating an aqueduct over Ganargua Creek. Energized by the new waterway, the village was quickly incorporated, in 1827.

During the period in which the Canal was built, at the height of the Second Great Awakening, the area between Rochester and Syracuse became a hotbed for religious fervor, known as the Burned-Over District. Palmyra was a particularly prolific source of the newly devout. In the mid 1820s, a local young adult named Joseph Smith (whose family lived just over the county line in nearby Manchester) claimed to have been visited by an angel, and directed to a set of buried artifacts on Hill Cumorah. Among those artifacts, it is claimed, was a set of golden plates, which Smith alone could translate. His translation became the Book of Mormon, which was published for the first time in Palmyra in 1830.

Despite that milestone, the area never embraced Smith's nascent religion (he had moved away in 1827 and never returned), and it wasn't until the year 2000 that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built a temple here. But the founding is commemorated every year with the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Get in

The Grandin Print Shop, where the Book of Mormon was first printed

Although RTSRochester's municipal bus systemdoes run a bus out to Palmyra twice daily on weekdays, it's timed for commuters, not tourists. You'll most likely be taking a car.

As it does throughout Western New York, New York State Route 31 parallels the Erie Canal through Palmyra, making it your best option for arriving from the east or west. It enters from Lyons from the east and from Macedon from the west. From the north and south, New York State Route 21 will get you to Palmyra, connecting to Williamson and Marion northward and to Manchester and Canandaigua southward.

If you're coming from farther afield, you'll want to take the east-west New York State Thruway (Interstate 90). Take Exit 43 and follow Route 21 north for about six miles.

Once you're in town, free public parking is available in a number of lots along Route 31 (Main Street) and at the public parks.

If you have a boat, you can take a scenic cruise into Palmyra along the historic Erie Canal, which runs right through town. Dock at the Port of Palmyra Marina, just east of the Division Street bridge.

Get around

Palmyra's downtown area is quite walkable, and that's where you'll find most of the shops, eateries, and lodging. If you're exploring the canal, the Erie Canal Heritage Trail is great for walking or biking, though it's over a mile from the downtown/marina area to the far end of Aqueduct Park.

If you want to head south to the Latter-day Saints sites, take your car or bike; they're two to four miles away, along country roads with no sidewalks.

See

The word "charming" is perhaps overused in tourism brochures to describe exactly the sort of village that Palmyra is. If you're easily charmed by such sites, then Palmyra won't disappoint. In truth, though, there's not a lot here that you can't find in other similar canalside villages throughout the region.

Still, Palmyra's claim to be the Queen of Erie Canal Towns is not entirely unfounded. You can easily spend a day here browsing the shops, strolling the canal, visiting historic sites, and taking in the sights and sounds. Traffic is relatively light, and there are few cookie-cutter retail chains spoiling the atmosphere.

Latter-day Saints sites

The Smith Log Cabin on the Joseph Smith Farm

There are not many places in the world that can claim to be the verified birthplace of a religion with millions of adherents worldwide. Palmyra is one of them, making this otherwise unassuming canal town a major destinationalmost literally, a Meccafor Mormon visitors.

Do

Remnants of the old Canal aqueduct over Ganargua Creek

The highlight of the year in Palmyra is the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant, a spectacular recounting of the Book of Mormon, at the very location where it was first recorded. There are a few other annual events for locals and visitors to enjoy, but activities in Palmyra largely center on the Erie Canal: boating, fishing, hiking, and bicycling.

Buy

Palmyra has a small but active business district on Route 31 (East Main Street) between Church Street and Clinton Street. Locally owned retail shops line both sides of the strip, with angled parking on both sides between William and Market Streets. The local specialty appears to be antique and vintage items of all types.

Eat

Palmyra is not a major destination for foodies, but you've still got to eat, right? The choices are dominated by takeout and diners. Unfortunately, popular local hangout Brad & Dad's has closed, but there are still some good options when hunger strikes.

A couple of local taverns also have good-sized dinner menus; see the Drink section.

Drink

While not a major nightlife spot, Palmyra has a couple of bars where locals hang out, drink, and watch the game.

Sleep

The Aldrich Change Bridge in Aqueduct Park

Lodging in Palmyra is limited; most people visit as a day trip from Rochester. But there are several B&Bs in the area, and a nice two-star hotel near the LDS temple.

There are also some hotels in nearby Manchester and Newark.

Cope

Go next

North along Route 21 you'll travel through Williamson before reaching Pultneyville on Lake Ontario. South takes you through Manchester to Canandaigua. West along the canal and Route 31 you'll find Macedon and Fairport; east will get you to Newark and Lyons.

Routes through Palmyra

END Williamson  N  S  Jct W E Canandaigua → Andover
Niagara Falls Rochester  W  E  Newark → Jct Vernon
Rochester Fairport  W  E  Newark Rome


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