HISTORY

ABOUT PALMYRA  >  HISTORY

We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of this history from resident Bob Lowe. This history is used with Mr. Lowe's permission and all rights are his. Under no circumstances is this history to be downloaded, copied, or in any way reproduced without specific written permission from Mr. Lowe.

'A Brief History of Palmyra'

ANCIENT TIMES
According to climatologists, the Wisconsin Ice Advance, 15 to 10,000 years ago, covered what is now Wayne County with an ice pack about 5,000 feet thick. As a result of the progression and recession of the action, Wayne County contains a number of unique hills call drumlins; for example, Prospect Hill in Palmyra and Hill Cumorah are among the numerous drumlins in our area.

According to anthropologists, Wayne County was occupied by a civilization called the Adena culture from approximately 1000 BC to 250 AD with an overlapping Hopewellian culture from approximately 500 BC to 750 AD with the climax period being 100 BC through 200AD. Near the end of the Hopewell period or shortly thereafter, the Woodland Indian culture represented in our area by the Iroquois came into prominence. It was with the latter that our early settlers met as they moved into what is now Wayne County.
 

1700's
When Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham first sought to purchase land in Western New York, they found conflicting claims; New York, Massachusetts and the Indians all laid claim to the land; sometimes all three claimed ownership of the land; sometimes all three claimed ownership of the same parcel. By April, 1788, Phelps and Gorham held title to six (6) million acres at a cost of approximately 2 ½ cents per acres. This was recorded by history as the Phelps and Gorham Purchase.
 

Prior to and at the time the Phelps and Gorham purchase was being created, a group of former Connecticut residents who had some years before settled in the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania were being harassed by both the Indians and the Pernanites. Consequently, they decided to leave the valley. John Swift and John Jenkins were deputized to seek out a new location. John Swift had been a private in General Sullivan’s expedition against the Indians in the Finger Lakes region in 1779. John Jenkins had been a surveyor for Phelps and Gorham. They recommended locating in the District of Tolland in the Phelps Gorham purchase. It was accepted.

As a consequence, Swift and Jenkins returned to Canandaigua and contracted to buy Township 12 in Ranges 2 and 3; an area six miles wide (north to south) and 12 miles long (east to west). Each township was 6 miles square, i.e. 6 miles by 6 miles. Settlement of the area began in 1789 with the 1790 Federal census listing four (4) families in Range 3, Town 12 (now Town of Macedon). John Swift moved his family into Township 12, Range 2 (now Palmyra) in September, 1790.

Immigration began immediately. In November, 1791, a large party arrived from Rhode Island coming by way of the military road. April, 1792, found another large group coming from Long Island by way of the Hudson River, Mohawk River, Oneida Lake, Seneca River and finally Mud Creek. This party settled pretty much near present day East Palmyra. Other settlers in the 1790-91 period came from Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In March, 1789, John Jenkins and four others were sleeping in a log hut, just to the north of present day (1996) Swift’s Landing Park, when some Tuscarora Indians stuck their guns through the chinks, fired, killed one man and injured another. The dead man was buried on an island in Ganargua Creek and the injured man was carried to Vienna (now Phelps) for treatment with the help of Horatio Jones of Geneva. The offending Indians were located and similarly executed, probably Wayne County’s only Indian massacre.

Indian troubles were a constant worry of the early settlers until the Pickering Treaty was signed in Canandaigua in 1794. Prior to the execution of the treaty with the Indians, the good people of Palmyra had begun the construction of a block house on Wintergreen Hill. With the execution of the Pickering Treaty, construction of the block house ceased and was never resumed.

A couple of firsts may be of interest: The first female child born in Palmyra was Mary Wilcox and the first male child was Asa Swift. The first church was a Congregation Association formed in East Palmyra in 1793. One of the earliest visitors to our area was Louis Phillipe (1773-1850) who became King of France. In 1796, he was entertained by the Durfee family on a farm in Palmyra.

The first town meeting recorded was held on the first Tuesday of April, 1796 at which time John Swift was elected Supervisor. Although what is now Palmyra was created by the Court of General Sessions of Ontario County on January 16, 1789 apparently no need was found for a formal organization until 1796

NOTE The census of 1800 show 986 inhabitants in the Town of Palmyra. At the time of this first meeting was called; Tolland was the name used. Since this name was not particularly acceptable to the people, a meeting some time between March and June, 1797 was called to change the name to impress the "school marm". Daniel Sawyer proposed Palmyra after the Ancient Syrian City (he had just studied history). This selection was accepted and our town progressed from Swift’s Landing (unofficial) to Tolland to Palmyra (however, for the first year, the town board minutes spell it as Palmira). Interestingly, from 1796 through 1812 only two (2) constables were appointed to maintain order in 72 square miles of territory.

1800's
Palmyra’s early military record really began with the War of 1812, in which 57 of our inhabitants participated. Since our town was not founded until 1789, there were no "Palmyra" people in the Revolution, although 26 of our townspeople had served in the Revolution and two in the French and Indian War (1754 - 1763). The Mexican War was not popular in the east and only Josiah J. White from Palmyra served. Palmyra cemeteries contain the graves of soldiers and sailors from every war from the Revolution to the present.

On March 31, 1815, the state legislature incorporated the Montezuma Turnpike and Bridge Company. In Wayne County, the turnpike enters at Angell’s Corners to Marengo to Lyons, to Newark, to East Palmyra and terminated at Palmyra. By early 1823 this project seems to have been completed with goods moving to and from Palmyra. Apparently, the turnpike was the victim of poor timing. Since the Erie Canal was completed to Palmyra by 1822, the use of the more expensive road methods of transportation suffered. On May 4, 1835, the legislature repealed the act incorporating the Montezuma Turnpike and Bridge Company, and for all practical purposes, the company ceased to exist.
 

Two major events which greatly effected Palmyra took place in 1817. From a cultural standpoint, the printing of the first issue of the "Palmyra Register" on November 26, 1817 allowed local people, businesses, municipalities, organizations, etc., an inexpensive means of communication. Incidentally, the "Register" was the first newspaper printed in Wayne County. The other event had a gigantic impact on Palmyra - that was the decision to build the Erie Canal.

Although the Erie Canal was not completed until 1825, a substantial part was available for use by Palmyra by mid 1822. According to the Palmyra Herald of June 19,1822, "our village has assumed an appearance which may be justly considered characteristic of the elevated rank to which it is destined. The canal crosses Main St. at the Eastern end where there is a large and commodious basin (Jessup) and nearly opposite the center of the village, another basin (Rogers)is now nearly completed plus at the west end of the Village is a third basin (Aldrich) directly opposite to which there is an elegant dry dock." ( A basin was similar to a bay which was constructed to allow boats to leave the main channel at the canal for the purpose of loading or unloading.)

The canal toll collector's office was originally at Jessup’s basin but was moved to Rogers and remained there for most of the life of the Erie. Some idea of the volume of canal business done at Palmyra may be determined by the Canal Commission report of 1827 which showed that the toll collected in Palmyra for that year was $84,009.96. Incidentally the collector’s salary was $1,000.00 annually.

During the canal period, roughly 1822-1853, the Palmyra area prospered tremendously. Many of the Main Street commercial buildings were constructed in the 1822 through 1830 period. Among the many occupations were farming (fruits, vegetables, grain, essence), manufacturing (boat building, rope, lumber, ashes) and forwarding. Many Palmyra merchants became very wealthy and built federal style homes which still stand today. A comparison of population from this time is interesting:
 

Year          Rochesterville          Palmyra

1816         331                             2187

1820         1500                           3124

1825         4274                           4613
 

By the special act of the New York State Legislature, Wayne County was set off from Ontario County on January 28,1823. At the same time, the Town of Macedon was set off from the Town of Palmyra. The result of this was that Township 12 in Range 3 became Macedon with 23,125 acres and Palmyra Township 12 in Range 2 with 19,410 acres. Note also the notch in the south border of Palmyra Township. The Canal was through Palmyra by 1822 and when the County was set off in 1823, Ontario County wanted an outlet on the Erie Canal so the south border of Palmyra was moved northward to allow for Port Gibson, Town of Manchester, Ontario County.

An act to incorporate the Village of Palmyra was passed by the legislature on March 29,1827, however, the charter did not reach Palmyra in time for the election of trustees on the first Monday of May. As a consequence, the charter was amended in January, 1828 and the first Village Board meeting was held on February 8,1828. One of the sections of the charter provided for the appointment of "a company of firemen not exceeding 20 members." At a meeting of the Board on May 23, 1828, Palmyra Fire Company No. 1 was formed with the 20 men authorized. A fire in the cupola of the high school building on February 18, 1830 " was extinguished and the building saved by the prompt and judicious conduct of our firemen on this occasion." On November 14, 1838, the Presbyterian Meeting House caught fire and in one hour saw the large and spacious building level with the ground. Note that this building was called the Presbyterian Meeting House only because most of those who built it were Presbyterians. It was, in fact, a community structure owned by the Town.

Mr. Whitney Cross in his book, "The Burned Over District" treats with the plethora of religious activities in our area in the early to middle years of the 19th century. Of most interest to us in Palmyra, was the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons. Although the church was founded in Fayette, Seneca County, most of the spiritual experiences underlying the foundation occurred in the Palmyra area. Among the significant locations are the Sacred Grove, Hill Cumorah, The Joseph Smith Home; all of which are located in the Town of Manchester, Ontario County. In Palmyra are the Martin Harris farm, the Grandin Building in which the first edition of the Book of Mormon was published, the gravesite of Alvin Smith and sites of business locations which played a role in the lives of the Smith family while in our area. The Hill Cumorah pageant brings thousands of visitors to Palmyra annually.

In addition to Joseph Smith, Palmyra has been home to, or visited by, a number of well known persons. Included were:

Henry Wells  From 1821 through 1827, he was an apprentice at the Jessup and Palmer Tannery. In 1827, he married a Palmyra gal, Sarah (Dolly) Daggett, and they moved to Port Byron. Mr. Wells was a stammerer and developed a procedure to alleviate the condition. He returned to Palmyra in 1835-36 and opened a Stammering School. In 1841, the Wells and Pomeroy Express Company was formed. (Pomeroy was George Pomeroy, a Palmyra merchant who later formed Pomeroy’s Letter Express.) Mr. Wells went on to forms Wells Fargo Express.

George Harrington-Christy George’s mother moved to Buffalo in 1830, after her husband died in Palmyra, and opened a boarding house-dance hall. Her 12 year old son, George, born in Palmyra, became well acquainted with Edwin P "Ned" Christy who took a liking to the boy. George admired Ned so much after that he took the name Christy and continued in the minstrel business until his death in 1868 - a rich man.

James W. Austin  Mr. Austin was born in Palmyra, October 18, 1839. At age 20, he joined an expedition to Pikes Peak. His career in the west included being the Pony Express rider who carried west the news of Abraham Lincoln’s death. Among his acquaintances were Jim Bridger, Kit Carson and other famous Western frontiersmen.

Isaac Singer Biographers of Mr. Singer indicate he married Catherine Maria Haley who lived with her family in Palmyra. She became the first Mrs. Singer. Palmyra Road tax records for 1831 lists I Singer owing 2 days labor. According to the index of Patents, Isaac Singer reserved 220 patents for sewing machine innovations.

Leonard Jerome  Married Clarissa (Clara) Hall in the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra on April 5, 1849. Clarissa was the daughter of Ambrose Hall and the granddaughter of David and Anna Wilcox. From the Jerome Hall union a daughter, Jenny was born. Jenny and her mother frequently spent the summer in Europe. During one such visit, Jenny met and married Lord Randolph Churchill. From this union a son, Winston S. Churchill was born. Churchill frequently claimed Indian blood and although probably minuscule his great great grandmother, Anna Wilcox was part Indian.

As the fall of 1849 approached, some citizens of Palmyra decided to hold a fair in Hathaway’s grove on the west side of Cuyler Street at the south end of the street. From that beginning, the Palmyra Union Agricultural Society was formed on June 26, 1856. During the same year, the society became a stock company and remains so today. August, 1970 found the fairgrounds used as the site of the Old Fiddlers Picnic with about 7,000 attending, but in 1980 the picnic was moved to a new location. When the Palmyra Fair became the only fair remaining in the county, it became the Wayne County Fair and continues to the present.

On May 30, 1853, the people of this "isolated region" were delivered from bondage. Long before the arrival of the first railroad train from the west, quite a large number of citizens assembled at the depot to witness the arrival of the first passenger train to serve our area. The trip went as far east as Port Byron and then the passengers returned on the westbound train. With the advent of the railroad, the canal began to assume a less important commercial role for Palmyra and all of Wayne County.

John M. Jones came to Palmyra from Clyde in 1855. While in Clyde, Mr. Jones patented a "Domestic Printing Machine," a typewriter. On Jackson St. in Palmyra, Mr. Jones built a manufacturing facility to produce printing presses. Patents for the "Globe," "Peerless," "Star," and a number of others were issued to him in the 1860’s, 70’s and 80’s. With various owners, the production of job presses and paper cutters continued until about 1902. About 1925, the original foundry was torn down and houses built on the site.

A couple other businesses may be of interest. With a patent issued in 1886, Olin J. Garlock organized a company to produce mechanical sealing devices. This first business was carried on in Port Gibson until 1889 when the Garlock Packing Company moved to Palmyra. From that time until the present the enterprise has offered the people of Wayne County an opportunity for employment and has been a good neighbor.

On January 19,1892, James T. Walker of Palmyra was issued a patent No. 467454 for a photographic camera. The camera was called the Takiv since the lens and shutter could be rotated to take 4 pictures on one plate. Although this camera has advantages over other plate cameras, Mr. Eastman had produced the first roll film Kodak camera in 1888 and Mr. Walker’s company could not survive the more efficient roll film model.

Palmyra’s role during the Civil War was quite extensive aside from furnishing more than 400 men. Company B of the 33rd Infantry was raised in our town as well as a large part of the 111th regiment. The home front was busy sending food, gifts and letters to the boys far from upstate New York. One postscript may be of interest: on the evening of April 14, 1865, Dr. Samuel Sabin, a Palmyra boy recently discharged as a surgeon with the 9th Heavy Artillery, attended Ford’s Theater to see "Our American Cousin". After the attack on President Lincoln, Dr. Sabin assisted in attending the President until he was removed to the Peterson house.

When people visit Palmyra, the two things most often photographed are the four (4) churches on the corner of Main and Church and Canandaigua Streets, plus the steel flag pole. The four churches were constructed as follows: Presbyterian Church - 1832, Methodist - 1867, Baptist - 1870, Episcopal - 1872. In Robert Ripley’s "Believe It Or Not" column in 1938, he wrote that the churches on the four corners were unique in the United States. Originally the flag pole was a Republican party pole used to fly banners promoting their candidates. (The Democrats also had one but was of wood and has not survived.) The Flag Pole raising day, as it was called, was held on October 25, 1892 with a mammoth parade which included bands, Republican Clubs from many surrounding towns, plus a dinner, speakers and songs. On July 20,1970, ownership of the pole was accepted by the Village Board and has since been the property of the village.

Shortly after the flag pole raising, America found itself in what historian James Ford Rhode called "This Needless War" Spanish American War - April 17, 1886 - August 12, 1896. Palmyra’s largest contribution to this effort was the service rendered by William T. Sampson. In September, 1886, Sampson was ordered to Annapolis to serve as the Superintendent of the Naval Academy. When the USS Main was blown up, he was appointed to head the Court of Inquiry. As the war began, Sampson was appointed Commander In Chief of the North Atlantic Squadron. On April 21, 1898 he was appointed a Rear Admiral. Palmyra staged a Sampson Day on October 27, 1899 to welcome home the local son. Four years later, on May 6, 1902, the Admiral died and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, although he had expressed a wish to be buried in Palmyra.

1900's
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 team.

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 in 1968.

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 ½ 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
 

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