"A BRIEF HISTORY OF PALMYRA" by Bob
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As the new century began, a number of significant changes occurred
in our town. For instance:
In 1899, the Palmyra King’s Daughters Free Library was begun as a
reading room. Two years later (1901) the library was chartered as a
lending library and has remained so until the present.
In March, 1900, Messieurs O.J. Garlock and W.W. Williamson took
delivery of a "locomobile" at a cost of $760.00 each. The automobile
age had come to Palmyra.
At the Village Board Meeting of December 22, 1903, the Wayne-Monroe
Telephone Company was authorized to construct, operate and maintain
a telephone system in the Village of Palmyra.
In March, 1905, The Syracuse and Eastern Trolley began construction
of a line through Palmyra. On Monday, July 2, 1906, passengers were
first carried. The trolley served the communities of Wayne County
until the last car left Palmyra on October 20, 1931.
On the morning of March 2, 1906, a major fire seriously damaged the
Clemons block on the south side of Main Street. Before the fire was
brought under control the loss was placed at nearly $8,000.00. Among
those burned out were offices of the "Wayne County Journal," a pool
hall and a veterinarian’s office.
At the Village Board Meeting of May 24, 1907, an application
presented by James H. Robinson to operate a moving picture theater
on Main Street was approved. The license was renewable annually for
a fee of $2.00. The Strand Theater was built for a movie house and
opened May 21, 1927. What youngster growing up in the 30’s, 40’s and
50’s will ever forget the Saturday matinee? On Saturday, October 1,
1966 the Strand closed its doors and now Palmyrians need to leave
town to see a "show," but its not the same.
With the advent of World War I, about 200 men and for the first time
- women of Palmyra answered the call to serve. Of those who served,
three were killed in action. In 1917, state militiamen were
stationed in Palmyra Township to guard railroad bridges etc. Of
these, one guardsman was killed by an eastbound train. Along with
the usual bond drives, comfort packages etc. for the soldiers and
sailors, the militiamen found time to bury their mascot, a goat, on
Galloway’s Hill complete with military funeral and head stone. The
marker is still there.
Both of the parks in the Village of Palmyra resulted from the
kindness of one man, Pliny T. Sexton. The Main Street Park was
donated to the Village about 1917. By his will, that portion of
"Prospect Hill," which he owned, was given to the Village, "for
public resort and pleasure ground, especially for children." Mr.
Sexton died September 5, 1924 and in his honor the name of the
Prospect Hill Park was renamed Sexton Park by the Village Board on
January 11, 1935.
Prior to 1926, mechanization of the Police Department consisted of
motorcycles. The Village Board Meeting of August 27, 1926 provided
"liability insurance to be carried on the police motorcycles and the
Ford runabout." In any case, the Board in April, 1929, authorized
the purchase of a Ford Phantom to be used by the Police Department.
The son of the chief at the time remembers the auto as an open side
4 seater. Traffic was apparently becoming a problem since traffic
signal lights were installed in 1927.
One of the more unusual happenings in our town occurred in 1930.
Henry Mason, a young man residing on Vienna Street, built a Heath
Parasoal airplane. With a wing span of 25 feet, an 8 gallon fuel
tank and a lift capacity of 350 pounds, it was capable of a flight
of several hundred miles. By 1937, Henry was operating a flying
service reported to be the only one between Syracuse and Rochester.
On August 24, 1956, at age 49, this pioneer aviator died and is
buried in the Palmyra cemetery.
If nothing else, Palmyra produced some very unusual people and
projects. Regarding the latter, in July 1931, the Village Board
received a petition from the residents of Vienna Street requesting
to change the name to East Avenue. Probably unknown to the residents
of Vienna Street was the significance of the name. In the earliest
days, the route from Canandaigua to Palmyra was through Vienna in
Ontario County and then by trail to Palmyra. Vienna Street was named
as a result of that trail. In 1855, when the Vienna area applied for
township status, it was found there already was a town of Vienna in
New York State, so they changed the name of the town to Phelps. The
petition was rejected.
Although there were certainly hardship cases in the Palmyra Township
during the depression era (1930-40), in general, the community fared
well. For example, the area’s main employer, The Garlock Packaging
Company reduced hours but never shut down and showed a profit in
each of the years. Quite normal activities continued. A major front
page story during the fall and winter was the list of the winners of
the Odd Fellows card parties. There were frequent shoots by the
Garlock Gun Club and the Palmyra Rifle Club. Summer visits by Fresh
Air kids and various activities by and for the Palmyra baseball
Perhaps two events illustrate Palmyra’s response to the depression.
In January, 1937, the Ohio and Mississippi river basins were hit
with severe flooding. The National and Wayne County Red Cross sought
aid in both supplies and money. Palmyra responded with over
$1,000.00 in cash, plus a railroad car of produce, food, etc., and
an additional car of furniture and clothes. Closer to home, the
first Palmyra Community Chest was established in May, 1939, with a
goal of $2,700.00. The July 9th issue of the Courier Journal stated
in part, "Chest Drive over the Top."
With the advent of the war in Europe in 1935, the United States
began to prepare. When the United States became an active
participant, production increased at Garlock, which created jobs,
and fund drives were held for refugees. In December 1941, two
aircraft observation posts were manned, scrap drives organized, bond
drives held, evacuation of people from cities to our area planned,
blood drives promoted, and much more. During the war itself
(1941-1945) Palmyra furnished over 450 men and women with 13 of them
giving their lives.
It was during the war in 1944, that Samuel Hopkins Adams, wrote his
book titled, "Canaltown." Palmyra had always considered itself to be
a canaltown but this book suggested that Palmyra was the canaltown.
Shortly before the end of World War II, the Palmyra Community Center
was opened on the second floor of the Village Hall on June 2, 1945.
Outdoor sport programs were held in the Village Park across Main
Street from the Center, dancing, pool, boxing, basketball, etc. were
held inside. In 1977, a fund drive was originated to build a new
Community Center building on land leased from the Fair Association.
The facility was built through fund raising and opened in 1979. The
facility remains today a mecca for kids of all ages (including
senior citizens) who want a well-managed place for recreation.
Although Palmyra had many fires, few have resulted in the loss of
life. One exception was the Fassett block fire which occurred on
Friday, March 25, 1949. While cleaning a clock with gasoline, an
explosion and resulting fire caused the death of Maynard G. Fassett,
the son or Mr. and Mrs. R. D. Fassett, owners of the jewelry store
in which the clock was being cleaned. Fire companies from Newark,
Macedon, Williamson, Marion and East Palmyra responded and limited
the blaze to the block on the West corner of Main and Market Street.
The absence of the third story of this block is very apparent today.
As early as 1915, Fresh Air kids had been coming to Palmyra under
sponsorship of the New York City Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund. The
1953 project sponsored by the local Rotary Club, brought 10 children
(boys and girls) to spend two weeks with families in Palmyra. Many
of the children had had limited opportunity to see lawns, trees,
farm animals, and swimming holes. Prior fresh air kids credit this
experience as their first guide post toward a better life.
When the North Korean troops breached the 38th parallel on June 25,
1950, "police action" by the United States followed. Despite the
fact that 33,629 Americans died in this conflict which ended January
31, 1955, national interest never reached that of World War II. From
Palmyra, approximately 150 men and women were called to serve,
including a number of World War II veterans who had remained in the
Reserves. Undoubtedly one of the most poignant episodes of this
action was the release of Sgt. Ralph G. Eveland, Jr. from a prisoner
of war camp in North Korea on August 18, 1953. No Palmyra service
person lost their life in action during this war.
At the Village Board meeting of March 3, 1959, the Sexton Hydrant
Hose and the Hook and Ladder Companies advised that they were
combining to form one unit to be known as the Palmyra Fire Company.
Officers of the new company were James O’Brien, Chief, Donald
Wilkinsen and Maynard Mc Gee, Assistant Chiefs. At this time, the
fire apparatus was housed in bays located in the Village Hall. A
plan was proposed in 1976 to build a seven bay Fire Hall on a site
near the intersection of Routes 21 and 31 on the east side of the
Village. Voters approved a $275,000. Proposition to build such a
structure in March 1977. On Saturday, September 30, 1978 the new
fire hall was dedicated.
Consideration of an urban renewal plan for Palmyra began with the
Village Board meeting of November 17, 1964. By October, 1966,
Palmyra was designated to receive $150,771 for the first phase of
the project with a reserve allowance of $890,000 for completion of
the project. Palmyra thus became the first village in Wayne County
to launch a federally approved and backed Urban Renewal Program.
After many changes, heated discussions, sweat and nearly 12 years of
effort, Palmyra’s experience with Urban Renewal ended with Main
Street intact, Towpath Manor built, parking areas created and some
ulcers. The agency closed its doors on September 3, 1976.
A fire which broke out December 20, 1964 on Market Street in Palmyra
resulted in the death of seven people. It was believed to have been
Wayne’s County’s most tragic fire to that date and probably still
is. Tom Rifenberg, a fireman with the Palmyra Fire Company describes
the weather as bitter cold with water freezing on streets and
clothing. Fire companies from Newark, Macedon and Walworth also
responded. At home at the time of the fire were Mrs. Anna Breeden
and her six children ( Mr. Breeden was in Chicago on business). Mrs.
Breeden’s body was found in the charred rubble and the firemen
believe the children had escaped but even had they known the
children were inside there was no way humanly possible for anyone to
have gotten into the house. When it was discovered that the children
were in the ruins, Chief James O’Brien called a number of firemen to
meet him at the firehall. There he asked each one individually if
they were willing to search for the children. As Tom said, "none
refused and none returned dry-eyed." A memorial service was held at
the Presbyterian Church with pastors of various Palmyra churches
officiating. The bodies were flown to Jefferson City, Tennessee, the
Breeden parental home for burial.
The first American combat troops landed in South Vietnam in March,
1965. Ultimately 536,100 United States service people took part in
the conflict. Of that number, approximately 300 of them were Palmyra
people. As in previous combat operations, a number of our people
were recognized by our government for bravery, meritorious service,
wounds and heroism. Two Palmyra men lost the life as a result of
service in this war. Although not directly connected with the
Vietnam conflict, Palmyra native, Ronald L. Byers was among those
lost when the nuclear submarine, Scorpion was reported lost at sea
Palmyra is fortunate to be the beneficiary of three celebrations
each year. In July, the Mormon Pageant brings thousands of visitors,
in August, the Wayne County Fair attracts people from all over the
area and Canaltown Days in September usually means more thousands of
participants. Since its inception in 1967, the event has expanded
into about 2 ˝ days of celebration of the Erie Canal. Each year the
events and attractions seem to get better than the previous year.
Fires were not the only cause for disaster in our town. On Sunday
night, August 30, 1976, a thunderstorm packing high winds and rain
knocked down trees, overturned mobile homes, flooded roads and
homes. One of the more severely damaged buildings was St. Anne’s
Church. The pastor, Rev. John J. Healy, estimated the damaged to be
in the $75,000 range. A weird occurrence took place at a store on
Main St. The wind apparently created a vacuum outside the building
momentarily bulging the plate glass window outward. A crack was
opened between the edge of the glass and the window, The bottom of
the curtain which hung inside the store was sucked through the
crack. The window then snapped back into place unbroken, leaving
half the curtain inside the store and half outside with the glass as
tight as ever. The Palmyra area rarely has such severe storms which
greatly contributes to the pleasure of living here.
During an interview in 1976, Harold E. Contant referred to himself
as a "has-been." It is difficult to associate the term has-been with
a person who possesses the following record: All American Skeet
Team-10 times, New York State Champion - 14 times, and inducted into
the National Skeet Association Hall of Fame. Harold owned a gasoline
station in Palmyra for more than 33 years with a clientele which
gathered there to discuss sports, politics, town problems, and more.
The station referred to as "Texaco Tech" was given to the Village of
Palmyra in 1980. All American, Harold Contant continues to live
quietly at his home on Hyde Parkway.
Written histories tend to deal with very somber subjects, i.e.,
crime, fires, natural disaster, recessions, politics, to name a few.
But there is another side which is infrequently presented. For
example: "it is said when a young lad kisses a Portland gal she
pouts and says "You don’t dare do so twice more." Not much different
are our Palmyra ladies. If you kiss one of them, so we are informed,
she immediately kisses you back with a lovely smile of indignation
exclaims "there, take that, Sir." Wayne Sentinel, May 11,1842.
A fleshy object found on a Palmyra sidewalk earlier this month has
been identified. It is a bear’s paw. The paw had been skinned and
the claws removed. Passing youngsters found the paw December 3 and
called Palmyra Police. Apparently whoever planted the paw prepared
to resemble a human hand and hoped it would be taken as such. It
was! Palmyra Courier, December 24, 1986.
Palmyra has been around for over 200 years. We have had tornadoes,
floods, fires, fairs celebration, political battles and any number
of other events. Palmyra consists of people and the only reason they
are still here is to see what is going to happen next.
© 1998 Bob Lowe