Palmyra (New York)
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.
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.
Although RTS—Rochester's municipal bus system—does 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.
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.
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.
- Four corners, four steeples, Main St at Church St/Canandaigua St. Hey, when you're in a small town, sometimes the most trivial things can become tourist attractions. There's one church on each corner of this intersection, and the village claims that no place else in the country can boast the same. The 1832 Western Presbyterian Church, 1867 First United Methodist Church, 1870 First Baptist Church, and 1873 Zion Episcopal Church aren't connected in any other way, and there's no tour or admission fee that lets you explore them all. But the sight is a popular one for photographers, if nothing else.
- Aqueduct Park (Rt 31 west to village line). 9AM-9PM. So named due to the still-standing aqueduct that carried the original Erie Canal—Clinton's Ditch—over "Mud Creek" (part of Ganargua Creek), Aqueduct Park is a treasure trove for Canal buffs. For starters, the aqueduct itself is quite a sight. Modern Lock 29 is also here, for those who like to watch boats lock up and down. There's a man-made waterfall where the modern canal spills over into the creek. Also here is the historic Aldrich Change Bridge; though it no longer crosses the canal, it was originally built when the original canal was widened in 1840 (the widened canal allowed no room for the south-bank towpath through the village of Palmyra, so the bridge was needed for the mules to change sides).
- Swift's Landing, 4100 Hogback Hill Rd (Rt 31 east to Galloway Rd, north across the canal). Swift's Landing on Ganargua Creek is where John Swift started settlement of the town; today it's a quiet 17-acre park that sits between the Creek and the Canal.
- Historic Palmyra Museum Complex, 132 Market St, ☎ +1 315 597-6981, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The complex encompasses five separate museums, each presenting a different aspect of life in old Palmyra. Single museum: Adults $3, Ages 12-17 and seniors $2; Trail Ticket (all five museums): $7 and $5; Family Trail Ticket (2 adults, 4 teens): $14. Children under 12 free with adult.
- Palmyra Historical Museum, 132 Market St. Late Spring - Fall: Tu-Sa 11AM-4PM; Fall - Spring: Tu-Th 10AM-5PM; or by appointment. The flagship museum of the complex houses a number of permanent exhibits on local history and artifacts. Topics include the Erie Canal, the Underground Railroad, women's suffrage, and the Book of Mormon. Another exhibit details the unique connection Sir Winston Churchill had to Palmyra.
- Erie Canal Depot, 136 Market St. Tu-Sa 10:30AM-4:30PM. Before 2011, the building between the Historical Museum and the General Store was known as the Tenant House and used for museum storage. But when they went to finish the interior, the museum staff discovered that the building had a story of its own to tell. Mule stables in the basement pointed the way: the building would become a museum documenting the village's canal history, with artifacts and exhibits explaining what life was like when Palmyra was the third-busiest port on the Erie Canal.
- William Phelps General Store and Home Museum, 140 Market St. Late Spring - Fall: Tu-Sa 11AM-4PM; Fall - Spring: Tu-Th 10AM-5PM; or by appointment. A former boarding house and tavern, the Phelps General Store was locked up in 1940 and left untouched for decades, leaving the contents almost exactly as they would have looked in decades past. The apartment upstairs appears much as it did when the Phelps family first occupied it, without any of the common modern conveniences like indoor plumbing.
- Print Shop Museum, 140-1/2 Market St. Late Spring - Fall: Tu-Sa 11AM-4PM; Fall - Spring: Tu-Th 10AM-5PM; or by appointment. John M. Jones sold printing equipment from this location for 63 years; today, examples of those items are on display at the museum.
- Alling Coverlet Museum, 122 William St. Jun 1 - mid-Sep (except Jul 4): daily 1PM-4PM, Sa-Mo call first; mid-Sep - Jun 1: Tu-Th, call first. The hand-woven coverlet collection of Mrs. Merle Alling constitutes the core of this museum's assets, which also includes exhibits on quilting and weaving. A small gift shop features woven goods and books.
- Village Park, 149 E Main St (between Church St & William St). The Village Park is in many ways the center of community activity in the village. Nearly every weekend it seems like there's something going on there, from outdoor movies to Farmers' Markets to bandstand concerts to community garage sales. Playground and picnic facilities available.
- Sexton Park (Prospect Hill), Johnson St. Much larger than Village Park, Sexton Park sits on Prospect Hill, a glacial drumlin much like Hill Cumorah to the south. It's a large wooded park popular with picnickers.
Latter-day Saints sites
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 destination—almost literally, a Mecca—for Mormon visitors.
- Hill Cumorah and Historic Sites. The Smith family farm was over a mile south of the village, straddling the border between the Towns of Palmyra and Manchester; Hill Cumorah is another couple of miles south. Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains a small visitors center at Hill Cumorah, along with an assortment of historical sites around the area. There is no admission fee for any of the sites, and staff members are always on hand to provide (free) guided tours.
- Hill Cumorah Visitors Center, 603 Route 21 (4 mi S of village, 2 mi N of Thruway Exit 43), ☎ +1 315 597-5851. M-Sa 9AM-9PM, Su 12:30PM-9PM; close 2 hr earlier Nov-Mar. Hill Cumorah, one of thousands of glacial drumlins found throughout the region, is said to be the location where Joseph Smith found the gold plates that he translated into the Book of Mormon. The elegant but modern visitors center is at the foot of the hill, and it contains a number of exhibits and displays related to the church and its history. Free guided tours daily.
- Joseph Smith Farm, 843 Stafford Rd (Rt 21 S to Temple Rd, then W to Stafford Rd; turn right; parking on left), ☎ +1 315 597-4383. M-Sa 9AM-7PM, Su 12:30PM-9PM; close 2 hr earlier Nov-Mar. The farm property has been restored to resemble what it would have looked like in 1830. You can start at the welcome center, with an introduction to the history of Joseph Smith's family and views of the whole farm complex. The Smith Frame Home (1825) still stands, and a replica of the 1818 Smith Log Home is nearby. Free guided tours daily.
- Sacred Grove. The exact spot where Smith received his first vision is not known, but it was somewhere within the woods west of the farm. What is left of the grove is maintained by the church, open and free to anyone who wants to walk its trails. No guided tours.
- Grandin Printing Shop, 217 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-5982. M-Sa 9AM-7PM, Su 12:30PM-9PM; close 2 hr earlier Nov-Mar. Even though Smith had moved away to Pennsylvania in 1827, it was at Egbert B. Grandin's print shop that the first edition of the Book of Mormon was printed in 1830. Today, the restored print shop houses a press, bindery, and even the shop where the first Book was sold. Free guided tours daily.
- The church also maintains the Peter Whitmer Farm, 27 miles (43 km) east-southeast of Palmyra in Waterloo, and the Aaronic Priesthood Restoration Site in Oakland, Pennsylvania.
- Palmyra Temple, 2720 Temple Rd (Rt 21 S to Temple Rd), ☎ +1 315 597-6001, e-mail: email@example.com. Despite being the location of the church's founding, no temple was built in the area until the year 2000. Even then, it was the first such Temple built in the entire state. Keep in mind that only Mormons who are in good standing with the Church are permitted inside the Temple itself. The beautifully maintained grounds and gardens, however, are open to all.
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.
- Curling on the Canal (Port of Palmyra Marina). 8 Feb 2014, 3PM-5PM. Every February the Rochester Curling Club heads out on the canal, setting up houses and bringing rocks for the community to throw.
- Erie Canalway Trail. Daily Dawn-dusk. Stretching from Buffalo to Albany, the Canalway Trail offers hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing alongside the Canal. In Palmyra, the trail is well maintained, and allows inline skating in addition to the other modes of transportation. You can access the trail from Aqueduct Park or the Port of Palmyra Marina. Free.
- Hill Cumorah Pageant. 7 nights, mid-Jul, 9:15PM. Every year since 1937, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has presented a dramatic interpretation of scenes from the Book of Mormon. Over the years, the event has grown into one of the largest outdoor spectaculars in the country. The modern pageant features a book by Orson Scott Card and a soundtrack by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Each year, over 700 Mormons from all over the country volunteer their time to appear in the pageant, which features professional-quality lighting, sound, and special effects. It is a spectacle in every sense of the word. The pageant is free to all, although you may see some low-key proselytizing from church members... and the occasional counter-proselytizing from non-Mormons outside. Free.
- Palmyra Pirate Weekend. F Sa, second weekend in Aug. Every August, the village celebrates its historic waterway with tongue planted firmly in cheek, throwing a two-day bash themed around pirates. The highlight is probably the Pillage 'N the Village Bed Race Regatta, where five person pirate crews race pirate-y beds (yes, beds) down Main Street. There's also a 5K footrace, a treasure hunt, and pirate games and tales. Of course the usual festival vendors are also available. Free.
- Palmyra Canaltown Days (Park at the Fairgrounds on W Jackson St), e-mail: PalmyraCTD@gmail.com. Sa 10AM-6PM, Su 10AM-4PM, second weekend in Sep. A more traditional take on the canal festival, with craft vendors, food concessions, parades, a car show, and tours of the canal and of Palmyra's museums.
- Wayne County Fair, 250 Jackson St. Mid-Aug (10-15 Aug 2015). The county fairgrounds are in Palmyra, so every year there's a big agricultural fair, with all of the usual games, rides, and competitions. The event dates back to 1856. Ages 17+ $5, ages 6-16 $3, under 6 free; weekly passes $15/$8/$0.
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.
- BrickHouse Antique & Rug Center, 239 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-3883. A well organized antiques shop also doing oriental rug sales in the back (and online).
- Goldy's Goodies, 309 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 573-1659. M-F 11AM-6PM, Sa 11AM-5PM. This is one of the stores that was destroyed in the 2013 fire, but they reopened in a new location later that year. It's been described as a "popular and quirky boutique" selling jewelry, accessories, and furniture—both new and vintage.
- Latter-Day Harvest, 213 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-9630. This is the third store in a small chain of Mormon bookstores (the other locations are in Ogden, Utah and Nauvoo, Illinois, both historically important locations).
- Mackenzie's, 138 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-5986. Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM. This haven for locals is described as a 'specialty boutique' filled with home decor, collectibles, and accessories.
- The Palmyra Canal Shop & Towpath Antique Center, 323 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-5000. M-Sa 9AM-5PM, Su 11AM-4PM. Sort of two stores in one storefront, this establishment combines a local-product gift shop with a standard antiques store.
- Village Bookmarket, 207 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-0210, fax: +1 630-597-4540, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-F 10AM-6PM, Sa noon-5PM. A full-service bookbindery and bookstore, the proprietors love to help customers find out-of-print or other hard-to-find editions, and they have the expertise needed to preserve and repair old books.
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.
- Akropolis Family Restaurant, 513 Canal St, ☎ +1 315 597-5634, e-mail: email@example.com. Daily 24 hours. Extensive diner-style menu with a handful of Greek- and Italian-American dishes, including pizza. Breakfast is served all day—literally, all day, since the place never closes. $6-17.
- Athenia Restaurant, 606 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-4287. Standard Greek-American diner with a limited online presence and somewhat mixed reviews. Fairly popular with locals, though. Careful not to park in the Dollar General lot just to the west; they've been known to tow.
- Chill and Grill, 616 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-8946. While the 'grill' portion of this shop offers basic burgers, hots, and fries, it's the 'chill' side that draws in the locals in droves. Enormous ice cream cones are the specialty here.
- Happiness Garden (China Garden), 212 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-8868. Classic Chinese-American eatery with takeout and delivery, but only two tables. Fairly good reviews.
- Mark's Pizzeria, 240 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-2727. Su-Th 10AM-10PM, F Sa 10AM-midnight. Mark's has dozens of locations throughout the Greater Rochester metro (and beyond!), but it got its start back in 1982 right here in Palmyra. Sadly, the original, historic building, along with three adjacent ones, burned down in May 2013. But Mark quickly bought 'em all up and rebuilt a bigger store, one that's still in keeping with the historic architectural character of downtown Palmyra. Is it the best pizza you'll ever have? No, but it's good, as is the rest of the extensive menu, and they'll deliver just about anywhere. $5-10.
- Muddy Waters Cafe, 100 Division St, ☎ +1 315 502-4197. Tu-Sa 7AM-2PM. A little cafe with sandwiches, salads, bakery items, and coffee. Nice view of the marina.
- Nima's Pizza, 165 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-5399. M-Th 11AM-9PM, F Sa 11AM-10PM, Su noon-9PM. Nima's is the other good pizza option in town if you don't like Mark's. Their pizza has a thinner style than Mark's, but Nima's real specialty is their calzones, which earn raves from patrons. $4-10; delivery $1 w/in 5 mi, $2 beyond.
- Square One Diner, 623 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-4818. Tu-F 11AM-8PM, Sa 8AM-8PM, Su 7AM-1PM. Just opened in 2014, this diner has a limited menu but some good early reviews. The focus is on a lunchtime menu of hot sandwiches and subs, with a few plated entrees added in for dinner. Breakfast is standard diner fare. Breakfast buffet on Sunday mornings; dinner buffet on Saturday nights. $4-11.
- Subway, 510 E Main St (Inside the gas station), ☎ +1 315 597-3555, fax: +1 315 597-3512. M-F 7AM-10PM, Sa 8AM-10PM, Su 9AM-10PM. The largest restaurant chain in the country serves made-to-order submarine sandwiches.
- Yellow Mills Diner, 2534 Rte 31, ☎ +1 315 597-4613. Good online reviews for this homey diner. Food is considered good for the price.
A couple of local taverns also have good-sized dinner menus; see the Drink section.
While not a major nightlife spot, Palmyra has a couple of bars where locals hang out, drink, and watch the game.
- Lock 29 Tavern, 222 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-0286. M-Sa 10AM-2AM, Su noon-midnight.
- Mickey's Restaurant, 3495 Vienna St, ☎ +1 315 597-5131.
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.
- Canaltown Bed & Breakfast, 119 Canandaigua St, ☎ +1 315 597-5553. Somewhat mixed reviews for this 1855 B&B, but most agree that the rooms are comfortable (if a bit twee) and the hosts friendly (almost to a fault). Two rooms, free Wi-Fi (if it's working).
- Liberty House Bed & Breakfast, 131 W Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-0011. Online reviews are very good for this B&B; complaints are nearly impossible to find. Three rooms, free Wi-Fi.
- Five Pillars Bed & Breakfast, 1145 Canandaigua Rd, ☎ +1 315 597-4044, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This 1864 building was once a carriage stop on the main road between Palmyra and Manchester; today it's a restored B&B with two bedrooms and some lovely common areas. Situated on a 6-acre property, which guests are welcome to stroll. Boxed lunches are available for an extra fee.
- Palmyra Inn, 955 Canandaigua Rd (S on NY-21 for 1.5 mi), toll-free: +1-800-426-9900. Although a fairly basic hotel in terms of amenities, the Palmyra Inn's spacious efficiencies and suites—not to mention its location within walking distance of the Temple and the Smith farm—make it a popular place to stay. Even the most basic room has at least a kitchenette. Free breakfast, free shuttle to nearby sites. Book well in advance if you have any designs on staying here for the Hill Cumorah Pageant. $89-200.
- The Palmyra White House, 970 Stafford Rd (S on Stafford Rd for 1.5 mi), ☎ +1-804-677-1182. A highly regarded rental house (accommodating up to 10 people at a time) with an adjacent cottage (9 people) and two suites (4 people each). Not technically a bed-and-breakfast, since you're on your own for food, but every unit has a full kitchen (except the smaller suite, which has a fridge and a microwave). Classic and comfortable decor, not the typical rustic/Victorian B&B. Guests frequently cite the meticulous and comprehensive provisions that are dutifully stocked into each rental. Right across Stafford Rd from the Smith farm. $89-169.
- The Thomas Galloway House B&B at Paragon Farm, 993 Cornwall Rd (E on NY-31, S on Vienna Rd to Cornwall Rd), ☎ +1 315 597-6742. An excellent choice for folks who want a B&B with a more rustic feel. This 1855 building has four individually themed rooms, but the host only books one travel party per night... so while up to 12 people can stay at a time, you won't be staying with strangers. Breakfast features eggs from the farm's own chickens and homemade jellies and jams.
There are also some hotels in nearby Manchester and Newark.
- Palmyra Community Library, 402 E Main St, ☎ +1 315 597-5276, fax: +1 315 597-1375. M-Th 10AM-8PM, F 10AM-5PM, Sa 10AM-2PM (closed Sa in Jul-Aug). Part of the OWWL (Ontario, Wayne, Wyoming, and Livingston Counties) library system. Free Wi-Fi (guest passes available).
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|