Grandin building being renovated: Palmyra printing site to include visitors center

The significance of that day in mid-August in 1829 when the first page of the Book of Mormon was finally set in type and printed on the press of Egbert B. Grandin was not lost on Joseph Smith.

He had come with Hyrum Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and, probably his father, Joseph Smith Sr., to witness the printing of the title page. They huddled around the press and watched as the printer daubed the type with ink, laid a sheet of paper in place, then pulled the lever to make the impression."This was a day foretold by the ancient prophets," explained Don Enders, senior curator of historic sites for the Church's Historical Department. "The publishing of the Book of Mormon was a major step in the restoration of the gospel."

To remember the work that took place on the three floors of the Historic Grandin Building, the Church is currently restoring the facility to its 1830-era setting, the way Joseph Smith would have seen it the day he walked in with Martin Harris to negotiate an agreement with Grandin to print the Book of Mormon 167 years ago.

When the building is completed in the fall of 1997, it will be dedicated as the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site. The new facility will include the renovated Grandin building, plus an addition behind the structure to be used as a visitor center.

"This building stands as a witness to the sacred work that took place there. It also testifies that we as Latter-day Saints remember what the Lord has done for us to bring forth the Book of Mormon," explained Brother Enders.

"Visitors will be able to walk into the bookstore on the main level and see what the Prophet Joseph Smith saw as he entered," Brother Enders said, including 200 popular books of the times, as well as other items like goose quills, inks, chess boards, maps, periodicals, violin strings and water colors.

"We have a good idea where the equipment was positioned based on wear patterns in the floor," explained Brother Enders, who has studied the history of the building since 1979.

"Much of the original work of the building, including plaster walls, wooden floors, windows and woodwork still remains," Brother Enders said. Even ink smudges on the wall are probably from the era when the Book of Mormon went to press.

Along with the restored building, the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site will serve as a visitors center that will include several major exhibits. One will be a re-creation of the setting at the Hill Cumorah where the gold plates were buried. Another will depict the home in Harmony, Pa., where the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. The second floor will house a gallery and theater.

The building was originally called the Thayer and Grandin Brick Row and was built in 1828 during the early economic boom days of the Erie Canal.

It was a modern building for the times. The brick facade was painted with a red glaze, while the mortar joints were ruled with a white-lead paint. The combined effect gave the building a crisp, stunning appearance and rivaled other commercial structures in New York state, according to Brother Enders.

The building was the communication center for the growing village of Palmyra where residents gathered to read the newspaper and discuss matters of the day. It was also one of the few places outside of the East Coast with a press .

The main floor consisted of Grandin's bookstore and private office. The second floor housed an attorney's office and a book bindery, while the third floor consisted of the printing equipment that included two presses, type frames and marble-covered imposing tables.

The request by the prophet to print 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon was unusual for a rural printer. Such large orders were typically work for the larger printing houses along the East Coast.

But shortly before this time, Grandin, who was a year younger than the prophet and who was establishing himself as an aggressive entrepreneur, had acquired a Smith Patented Improved Press from New York. The press featured new technology over the common presses of the day and offered the prophet the prospects of printing the Book of Mormon closer to his home.

Grandin was hesitant to accept the printing order at first, but after several visits with the prophet and the assurance of Martin Harris to mortgage his farm as collateral if necessary, an agreement was reached. Publication began in mid-August 1829 and was completed seven months later on March 26, 1830.

The challenge in restoring a 168-year-old building, according to Dave Paulsen, special projects manager for the Church, is preserving the integrity of the old, while meeting the demands of the present.

It's anticipated, said Brother Paulsen, that during the peak tourist season, as many people will go through the building in a few days as would probably go through in a year in those days.

Through the years the building has been renovated numerous times. Some renovations helped preserve the dimensions and positions of walls, counters, bookshelves and equipment.

It was assumed, for instance, that the bookstore counter was formed in an L-shape. But after pulling up four layers of flooring, the actual position of the counter was found to run parallel with the wall with bookshelves between the counter and wall.

"It's a challenge to make [the building] accessible to the public, while still remaining true to the time period" he continued. "The aim is to maintain the historical integrity of the building while allowing the visitor to be enveloped in the history of the time."

The Mormon Historic Publication Site is not only prominent in Church history, but also in the early history of the United States. A prominent building specialist for 19th Century structures in New York, Don Carpentier, claims the building is one of the finest commercial buildings in the state from Erie Canal period, according to Brother Enders.

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