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Palmyra: Town benefits as 'birth place of Mormonism'

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PALMYRA, N.Y. — Palmyra, New York is like many small towns. It has a Main Street, a barber, and mom-and-pop shops.

But it's unique in that it's the birth place of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"This is kind of the equivalent of Mecca for the Muslims," said President of the Rochester New York Stake Cary Jensen, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. "If you were in Saudi Arabia you would go there, it's kind of the hub. That's where it all started. Same thing for the Mormon Church."

Latter-day Saints believe that in 1820, 14-year-old Joseph Smith had a holy vision here that ultimately led to the publishing of The Book of Mormon in Palmyra 10 years later.

The Church has preserved several areas where Joseph Smith lived, worked and taught the gospel. Visitors also tour the grounds of the Palmyra New York Temple, which was completed in 2000.

"Because of the Sacred Grove, where Joseph Smith had this First Vision, the Hill Cumorah where he got the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon, where he lived, where the church was formed, these are all significant historic sites," Pres. Jensen said.

Being known as the birth place of the church helps the town's economy.

Vicky Daly, mayor of Palmyra Village, said, "That certainly is a factor. The other factor was, well put it this way: The Erie Canal and the Erie Canal Trail bring many many people from all over the world."

The actual location that Latter-day Saints believe Joseph Smith unearthed the gold plates is just outside of Palmyra.

"The early Mormon history and the history of Palmyra in that era are the same," Mayor Daly said. "And so it's something that people, everybody, no matter what church they attend -- if they do -- should take a look at if they are interested in local history or New York state history."

About Palmyra
  • A town and village in Wayne County, New York
  • The population was 7,672 at the 2000 census
  • Named after the ancient city Palmyra in Syria
  • Created in 1789
  • Incorporated in 1827

Many of the faithful flock to Palmyra to feel the spirit while walking the historic sites.

One church member, Lanny Cole, said, "For years my wife and I had wanted to come to the Sacred Grove and kind of follow the Joseph Smith story. But in May my wife passed away, so my daughter and I decided that we would come."

Palmyra is traditionally a Republican town, but some say there seems to be an increased interest due to the presidential election and Mitt Romney being a member of the church.

"Maybe partially due to the election or the 'Book of Mormon Musical,' I don't know, someone has described it as a 'Mormon moment' right now," Pres. Jensen said.

Others say it could be that Palmyra reminds them of the village under the Christmas tree.

Resident Tim Walker explained, "Everybody knows everybody, which can be good sometimes, and sometimes not so much. But yeah, very small town America. Very comfortable place to live."

Either way, the population of this tiny town swells during the peak tourist season until the leaves start to fall.


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Warren Levinson of the AP, and


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