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NSG Visit August 23, 1997

Venerable Valentown Hall


Donovan A. Shilling

Just across Route 96 from the enormous Eastview Plaza, just west of Victor, New York, stands another emporium, tiny by comparison. This across-the-road neighbor, Valentown Hall, was once an early, covered "shopping center," community center, and school. It served a wide range of settlers from Fishers, Victor, Pittsford and nearby towns. Now the venerable Valentown Hall is a private museum and storehouse of artifacts covering more thean 300 years of area history. In this historic, three-storied building more than two dozen members of the New Society of the Genesee met for their August gathering.

Our hosts were Society members, Lillian, Douglas, and J. Sheldon Fisher. We assembled there at 10:30 on August 23, 1997 to tour the museum and to help Sheldon Fisher, its curator, celebrate his ninetieth birthday.

Entering the weather-blackened, 80 foot long, clapboard-sided structure, we thought about all those many souls who had passed through the same old nine doorways into the shops that made Valentown Hall an integral part of their lives.

Inside, a still spry and alert Sheldon Fisher was ready to relate the rich history of the hall and the area. The building stands along the former Seneca route between Irondequoit and Gannegaro. In 1809 Ichabod Town purchased 140 acres here and built a log cabin. His son-in-law, Samuel Valentine, built a series of small shops, hoping to draw people to the area. Fairs were held and a local band was started.

Samuel's son Levi heard that a railway would pass by on a proposed route to Pultneyville, and in 1879, built the structure we were visiting today. Sadly, the Pittsburg, Shawmut and Northern Railroad ran out of funds about the time it reached Wayland, New York, and never reached Valentown.

Nevertheless, Valentine's splendid new hall provided area citizens with four floors of shopping and social convenience under a single roof. In the banked basement were stables for horses, on the first floor level was a general store, harness-maker's stall, cobbler's shop, meat market, bakery, and community room. On the second floor, was the Grange Hall where cooking, housekeeping and other domestic skills were taught, and other rooms where theater, music, art, and business classes were offered. Above on the third floor was a spacious Grand Ballroom with a chandelier-illuminated ceiling eighteen feet high. Valentown Hall became the area's social center in the 1880s.

Reminiscing with a smile, Sheldon spoke of the ballroom's delicious oyster suppers, its quadrille dances, its church services, theatrical plays and performances by the 54-piece Victor Military Band conducted by William A. Williams. With a twinkle in his eye, he related that it was at one of these dances that his father met the lovely lady who would become Sheldon's mother. They were married in 1905, and in 1907, Sheldon, their first child, was born.

In 1940 Sheldon and Lillian bought the historic building to save it from demolition, and began their Valentown museum of the local past.

Following Sheldon's introduction, our members explored the unique, relic-packed interiors of the three floors. In the country store first run by Levi Valentine, a curved glass case caught my eye. It contained an almost complete collection of "Victor Insulators. " In 1895, Fred M. Locke, a Victor native, invented the porcelain insulator and the "indestructible insulator pin" on which to install his insulator for carrying telephone and electric wires. Surrounding shelves held a variety of wooden boxes and bottles bearing the names of many of Rochester's once famous products.

Entering a long room, which opens into each of the shops along the front of the building, and was used for community meetings and suppers, we came to a case displaying some of the carpentry tools once belonging to Brigham Young, the Mormon leader. In 1829 he lived nearby in Fishers, New York. In this common room, too, is the desk used by Oliver Phelps, not only when he was quartermaster in the Revolution, but also later in his Canandaigua land office. Here are original ledgers recording Phelps and Gorham land transactions, and a chair and heating stove from the Canandaigua office.

An adjoining room features blacksmith's tools. On one wall, colorful potato sacks recall the time when the Fisher's area was renowned for its seed potatoes. Sheldon told us that the local seed potato industry was initiated by Charles Ford and later carried on by Elijah G. Shilling. In early days, one especially popular spud variety was affectionately known as the "Maggie Murphy. " Locals often spoke of eating their "murphys. "

Climbing to the second floor we spotted a colorful lithograph of the famous race horse "Cassius M. Clay. " Before this, we'd only known about a pugilist bearing that name. There is evidence that the swift trotter may have been owned by Joseph Hall, founder of a Rochester firm manufacturing agricultural implements. Going onward we inspected a hat shop and a display case containing dozens of fancy combs made to decorate "my lady's" hair.

A combination exhibit of railroad artifacts and vintage telegraph paraphernalia was in one room, nearby was a room lined with shelves carrying pairs of new shoes from 100 years ago. Most impressive however, was Sheldon's enormous floor-to-ceiling display of Indian artifacts. Hundreds of flint and obsidian arrow and bird points, tools, clay pipes and other items were arrayed. Unfortunately, the case bore no written labels telling of the artifact's type or origin. When one of our group volunteered to do such cataloging and labeling, Sheldon only smiled, saying that someday he'd get around to doing just that.

Going on, we viewed a collection of faceted glass cruet tops, a shadowbox frame filled with stuffed song birds, an assortment of block planes and other vintage tools and a huge, six-by-three-foot photograph of the Adelbert Whalen, a packet boat.

"You don't want to see the storage area we're presently using the third floor ballroom for," Sheldon remarked. Of course we did. Thus with a little persuasion a small group made its way past a ticket office up a steep narrow stairway to the museum's cluttered, but interesting assemblage of tangible history, both past and present.

Stored on racks were old photographs, newspapers, toys, optical instruments, unidentified bric-a-brac, furniture, paintings, posters, historical papers and letters, and many other mementos of the past. Here too, we sighted some of the electrical apparatus associated with Dr. Came, the "19th Century self-styled ethereal physician and phantasmagoriast. " Sheldon told us that he enjoyed donning vintage vestments to demonstrate the doctor's 1830's contraptions for generating electricity and for producing a shocking electrical cure, perhaps. In a corner Sheldon pointed out Dr. Came's original sofa that he'd been able to acquire from the doctor's Pittsford home. It looked in need of repair. When questioned about this, Sheldon replied, "Oh, I've got the veneer it needs. It really is quite a relic and as soon as I have time I'll fix it up."

Sheldon Fisher continues his enthusiasm for treasuring the artifacts of the people who lived in the Genesee Country. Valentown Hall with its marvelous contents is a monument to more than 50 years of dedicated work by J. Sheldon and Lillian Fisher, and their children.

© 1997, Donovan A. Shilling
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