Aug 20, 2019

Visiting Palmyra, New York

I love small towns and am always amazed at the things I find in them.  It is where the “gems” are. Recently I visited Palmyra, a small town that supplied those who traveled the Erie Canal during its heyday.  The William Phelps General Store was built in 1826 to supply boats traveling the canal. Proprietor William Phelps completed renovations to the store by
1875, which was subsequently left untouched by his son, Julius, who locked the doors in 1940. The store never had electricity or running water. While the store was left untouched the upper floors remain their family residence. After Julius Phelps passed away his daughter, Sybil Phelps, stayed on until her death in 1976 at the age of 81.  After an early attempt to become an actress in New York, Sybil returned to Palmyra. She resided in the family residence with post-Civil War furnishings and Victorian
splendor above the store where she continued to live without electricity or running water with her 15 cats. The Historical Society purchased the place in 1980.

Today, the William Phelps General Store is a curious retail time capsule for visitors to explore. Phelps never moved, changed, repaired, or painted anything. When he decided to close, he just locked the door and just left everything which is what one sees today. I recognized the names of many of the products on
the shelves: Tide, Velveeta, Arm & Hammer, Heinz Pickles and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. The packaging was much more simplistic.  Check out the eggs. They were fresh back in 1940 when Julius Phelps left them on the counter in their carton where they sit today. Besides the old cans and boxes I found the gas coffee grinder and washing machine interesting. The sale of some of their land kept them in good financial straits. 

The Phelps General Store and Residence is one of five museums in the Historic Palmyra Museum Complex. The Alling Coverlet Museum features the largest collection of hand-woven coverlets in the country. All styles of hand-woven coverlets from 1820 to 1880 are represented. The collection also includes a Quilt Room, looms, spinning wheels, and other assorted weaver’s tools. The Historic Print Shop is where John M. Jones’ company produced presses that he exported around the world via the Erie Canal. Visit the Erie Canal Depot where
passengers purchased their tickets and the Palmyra Historical Society which was built in 1826 as a tavern and boarding hours. Upstairs in the Historical Society the rooms have individual themes: Military Room, Women’s Room, Toy Room, and Tool Room.  Entrance is via the Historical Society where tickets are sold and tours begin. For $10 visitors get a tour of all the sites. 
Across the street in the parking area is one of their historic murals. There are many throughout the area depicting the history of the area.  

Not too far away are several locks on the Erie Canal.  The Canal created Palmyra and many towns along the way. Many of the towns are now quiet places to live but at onetime the now serene Erie Canal was a place of ruffians and hoodlums.  In fact, at one time the Phelps store faced the canal but the intersection became known as “Bloody Corner” due to all the fights the canalers managed to get into so Phelps changed the front of the store to face Market Street so villagers would not be afraid to do their shopping there.