Palmyra, NY

Palmyra is a town in Wayne County. The town is named after the ancient city Palmyra in Syria. The Town of Palmyra is on the south border of the county. The town contains a village also named Palmyra. The town is about 20 miles southeast of Rochester. The Town of Palmyra, originally called “Swift’s Landing” after its founder John Swift and “District of Tolland,” was created in 1789. The sole local encounter between natives and white settlers that resulted in deaths occurred that same year. The present name was adopted in 1796, reportedly to impress a new school teacher. There were almost one thousand people in the town in 1800.

The Erie Canal was completed up to Palmyra in 1822, although the canal was not completed to its western terminus until 1825. Palmyra is part of the Erie Canal way National Heritage Corridor. In 1823, the Town of Macedon was formed from part of Palmyra’s territory as part of the creation of Wayne County from Ontario County.

Palmyra is the birthplace of the Latter Day Saint movement. Founder Joseph Smith, whose family lived on a farm that straddled the line between Palmyra and Manchester, said he had been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820, an event known as the First Vision. In 1830 the Book of Mormon was first published in the village of Palmyra by E.B. Grandin, in the present Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site. Beginning in the early 20th century, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began buying and restoring many of the properties in the area associated with early church history. In 1997 the Smiths’ log cabin was rebuilt on its original site and in 2000 the church built the Palmyra New York Temple on a portion of the former Smith farm.

Notable residents

  • E. B. Grandin (1806–1845), printer of first edition of the Book of Mormon
  • Increase A. Lapham (1811–1875), “father” of the United States Weather Service
  • William T. Sampson (1840–1902), Admiral in the Spanish American War
  • Joseph Smith (1805–1844), founder of the Latter Day Saint Movement, resided in Palmyra from 1816 to 1825
  • Henry Wells (1805–1878), founder of American Express and co-founder of Wells Fargo
  • Clarissa Hall Jerome (1825–1895), grandmother of British statesman Winston Churchill