story and photos by James P. Hughes
“Imagination is everything,” Albert Einstein once remarked. “It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” With a peculiar twist, Einstein’s quote foretold a link between the “imagination” of a farmer from the Town of Victor and the “coming attraction” of suburban Rochester’s Eastview Mall.
Levi Valentine was a perceptive young man, a late-1800s visionary who imagined an extraordinary project in the midst of the rolling potato fields of his family’s farm. With its proximity to the Erie Canal and rumors of a prospective rail line passing near the homestead, he envisioned the emergence of a lively town, an economic hub…and, oh yes, a shopping mall!
Levi would construct a building – a monumental building. Instead of a general store here and a blacksmith shop there, Levi Valentine sought to create his village around a comprehensive four-story structure. Ample space was planned for a multitude of community needs, both commercial and social, all housed under one roof. With advice and help from cohorts, his concept began to take shape. In 1879 the vision became reality under the title Valentown Hall, honoring the surnames of his parents, Valentine and Town.
Valentown Hall’s architecture was, and still is, imposing and impressive with its unique and ingenious layout. A series of doorways lined its long front porch offering separate entrances to an array of shops – general store, bakery, cobbler’s shop, millinery, and harness shop among them. The rear of that ground level contained an open meeting room for the local Grange, a critical organization of the day, and other community groups.
Four separate stairways led to a second level housing additional shops, trades, and services. Hardly a community need was overlooked – culture was certainly not forgotten. At various times gathering rooms were used for business, art, and music schools – even a school of elocution.
The third floor boasted a high-ceilinged Grand Ballroom for festive celebrations. A box office was installed for use when hosting concerts and theatrical performances on its large stage. A fourth level below the building provided an early “parking garage,” a protected space for visitors to stable their horses.
Despite valiant efforts, and a concept far ahead of its time, Valentown was destined for a relatively short life. The railroad, a key to success, dropped plans for the anticipated line and Levi Valentine’s vision of a booming village and commercial center never completely materialized. Over time, activities at the ambitious venture declined and ultimately the enterprise failed. The lofty building was abandoned.
In 1940, local historian J. Sheldon Fisher and his wife Lillian purchased Valentown Hall, and eventually the homestead with a portion of its original property. With his own broad collection of artifacts and memorabilia, along with extensive acquisitions and donations of period pieces, Mr. Fisher opened Valentown Hall as a museum in 1965. His ingenuity and tireless endeavors created a legacy to be studied and appreciated, a unique glimpse into regional 19th century history.
Today, overseen by the Victor Historical Society, Valentown Hall sits in a suburban location less than a half mile from its “successor,” Eastview Mall, established over a century later. Yet, facing Valentown Hall’s weather-beaten exterior and exploring its fascinating interior is to step back in time. One can certainly appreciate the imagination and foresight of Levi Valentine – recognizing, as Einstein stated, the structure was truly a “preview of life’s coming attractions.”