NSG Visit 1999
Palmyra's Book of Mormon
and Alling Coverlet Museums
As the Towpath Volunteers Fife & Drum Corps produced a stirring beat
while marching down Palmyra's thoroughfare, twenty-three members of the
New Society of the Genesee entered the Egbert B. Grandin Building, at
217 East Main Street, site of the first printed publication of the Book
Built in 1829, the three-story, brick Grandin Building has undergone
a three-million-dollar renovation. The site was "dedicated to the Lord
in March, 1998" were the words of Elder Norman our guide and a member
of the Church of Latter Day Saints. The museum provides visitors today
with a state-of-the-art presentation of the origins of the Book of Mormon
as well as a detailed look at the tools and intensive labor involved in
the printing and binding of 5000 copies of the religious work.
Elder Norman, a native of Idaho Falls, Idaho, began the tour of the print
shop's 170-year-old bookstore. The first floor, that once housed a dry
goods store and later, a Ben Franklin store, has been transformed to communicate
its original purpose. Cabinets, that line two walls of the shop, were
built by Isaac Merritt Singer who later became well-known as a sewing
machine manufacturer. There shelves contain scores of paper bound books.
These when sold, would then often have custom-made leather bindings applied
at the second-floor bindery. Other book shop artifacts included an original
"10-piece" stove and replica whale oil lamps.
Following this, the Elder ushered our party to the third floor by way
of a roomy elevator, the only one in Palmyra. On this level several displays
center on the origin of the Book of Mormon, its translation and its publication.
A floor-to-ceiling painting depicts the Angel Maroni encountering Joseph
Smith in his log cabin loft bedroom. Moroni is seen giving his message
concerning the location of a set of gold plates to the young Smith. The
tablets contained the story of people living in pre-Columbian America
and their meeting with the risen Savior.
Next to this is a very life-like representation of the grove on Hill
Comorrah duplicating the location where Joseph Smith found the sacred
plates. Elder Norman explained in detail the trials Joseph Smith endured
in preserving the plates and locating someone to copy down his translation.
An adjoining exhibit highlighted the interior of the early kitchen in
which this task was accomplished. Here, Oliver Cowdery a school teacher,
acted as Smith's scribe from April through June, 1829. Over a sixty-five
day period five hundred, seventy pages were translated.
Beyond these exhibits, Elder Norman led the group into a neatly restored
print shop. He explained printing terms: composer's stick, upper & lower
case type, frame & chase, printer's pie, etc. and he described the hand
setting of type, the use of the press, and how sixteen book pages will
be in reading order when the large printed sheets are correctly folded.
To print the Book of Mormon it took printers seven months working twelve
hour days, six days a week. Cost of the project, the largest Mr. Grandin
had ever undertaken, was three thousand dollars. Martin Harris an early
member of the church sold 150 acres of his farm to help pay the publication
The price of the original Book of Mormon in 1829 was $1. 25, equal to
about two and a half days' salary. The museum has an original copy displayed
in a large lucite case. One of the first 5000 copies, it was donated by
local historian, Robert Lowe. As a first edition, it is worth well over
ten-thousand dollars. We all thanked Elder Norman for his informative
explanation of the museum's notable exhibits. The tour was most enjoyable,
suitable for anyone interested in early printing or in the origins of
Just a short amble across a parking lot from the rear exit of the Grandin
Building and one reaches the Alling Coverlet Museum at 122 William Street.
Opened on the July 4, 1976, the museum holds more than two-hundred coverlets,
most donated by Mrs. Merle Alling. Formerly a printshop, the building
was donated by Mrs. Agnes Griffith to be used to house the coverlet collection.
Marjorie Clark who has been with the Museum since its beginning was our
guide and informant. She told us that the word "coverlet" is derived from
the French couvre, a cover, and lit meaning a bed. Thus, we use the term
coverlet when speaking of woven bed coverings. During our tour John Topham,
a Society member, recalled an auction when Mrs. Alling outbid him for
one of the colorful coverlets now hanging in the museum. John donated
large Venetian blinds for shading direct sunlight shining through the
museum's windows to help prevent fading of the coverlets.
We saw that coverlets were produced in different colors and a kaleidoscope
of geometric patterns. Stars, wheels, crosses, roses, squares and other
shapes represent the many motifs employed by the weavers. The thread used
in coverlet production was linen made from locally-grown flax and wool
spun and dyed from fleeces shorn from sheep raised on near-by farms. Housewives
used yarns of natural color and yarns tinted with dyes made from berries,
bark, and plant roots.
The domestic looms often had only four sets of heddles harnessed for
carrying the warp threads, but with them women could weave geometric patterns
for coverlets, as well as make plain-weave fabric. Adding more frames
with fewer threads carried by each frame allows more intricate geometric
designs. Some looms had 24 sets of heddles.
The museum's coverlets are classified into several groups. One distinctive
type is termed "summer and winter. " They're dark on one side and light
on the other, reversed on the beds according to the season, light for
summer, dark to winter-a neat idea. A second group is called "German"
or doublewoven coverlets. This type, using two layers of cloth woven simultaneously,
were professionally done. This resulted in attractive coverlets featuring
very well-defined patterns.
Two Palmyra natives, James Van Ness and Ira Hadsell, were professional
weavers who wove most of their coverlets employing a "Jacquard" mechanism
attached to their looms. The weaving device, invented by the Frenchman
Joseph-Marie Jacquard, allows weavers to produce "figured and fancy" patterns
through the use of a series of linked and advancing hole-punched cards
that controlled which individual warp threads (running the long way of
the cloth) would be raised each time a weft thread was placed crosswise
between the raised and lowered warp threads. As the fabric was woven thread
by thread a separate card for each throw caused a pre-determined design
to emerge in the fabric. This unique semi-automated system we were told
was a mechanical fore-runner of the modern computer.
Upstairs more coverlets, a few quilts and an exhibit of spinning wheels,
clock reels, "swifts," and aids used to produce coverlets can be viewed.
There is also in the museum a collection of sample rugs made by Sarah
Hall Bonesteele using available household materials.
We thanked our guide and after lunch in the basement of one of the four
churches standing on opposite corners at an intersection along Palmyra's
East Main Street, society members visited the William Phelps General Store
Museum at 140 Market Street and other displays of Palmyra's Canaltown