About an hour off the interstate through the beautiful rolling farmland of Otsego County, New York you’ll find the bucolic village of Cooperstown which - though best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum - is a delightful place to visit even if you don't happen to give two hoots and a holler about baseball. Though America's National Pastime is definitely king in Cooperstown, there are a lot of other great things to do in the village and the area surrounding Otsego Lake where the headwaters of the Susquehanna River rise.
|New York State Historical Marker|
near Fairy Springs Park
It was the younger Cooper who gave Otsego Lake it's popular nickname of Glimmerglass while setting four of his novels in Otsego County including The Pioneers; or, The Sources of the Susquehanna which takes place in 1793 in the newly settled town of "Templeton" which was modeled after Cooperstown. The story has been described as an affectionate and warm account of the village, its lake, and the surrounding hills as Cooper remembered them from his childhood while also introducing the world to the hero of his Leatherstocking Tales - frontier scout Natty Bumppo aka Leatherstocking, and his lifelong friend, Chingachgook.
It was Susan who helped launch Cooper's writing career in 1820 by wagering that he could write a book better than the one she was reading at the time. Taking her up on the wager, Cooper penned his debut novel, Precaution, a story of English society à la Jane Austen, followed in 1821 by The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground which was set in Westchester County, New York in 1788 during the American Revolution. Thus began a successful writing career that would make him the first internationally-acclaimed American novelist as well as the first American to support himself by writing as he penned 36 major works of fiction and 17 non-fiction titles.
As way to honor their hometown boy, in 1940 the citizens of Cooperstown erected a bronze statute of James Fenimore Cooper on the former site of Otsego Hall, the original manor house of the Cooper family built by William Cooper which, when it was completed in 1799, was one of the largest and stateliest private homes in central New York. After a 16 year absence from Cooperstown during which time Cooper and his family lived in Paris and New York City, in 1834 he decided to return to his hometown and reopened the long-vacant family home where he then spent the rest of his life writing novels combining adventure and romance with a critical analysis of the society in which he lived. The site is now called Cooper Grounds and is part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame property.
Shortly after their marriage, from 1813 to 1817 Cooper and his wife Susan made their home in Cooperstown as they tried their hands at farming along the western bank of Otsego Lake at a site they called Fenimore Farm. Today on the part of the property where Cooper's early 19th century farmhouse stood, you can find the Fenimore Art Museum occupying Fenimore House, a beautiful neo-Georgian structure built on the site in the 1930s by Edward Severin Clark.
The museum boasts fine art paintings by Hudson River School artists, American folk art, and other collections showcased by the New York State Historical Association which was founded in 1899 by New Yorkers who were interested in promoting a greater knowledge of the early history of the state. In 1939 Stephen Carlton Clark, Edward's brother and an avid art collector, offered the Association a new home in the village of Cooperstown donating his late brother's home which had plenty of room for exhibition galleries, office space, and a library. In 1945 Fenimore House was opened to the public to present its superb art and history collections.
In 1995, a new 18,000 square foot wing was added to showcase the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection which is one of the nation's premier collections of American Indian Art that is enormously diversified in type, style, and use of materials. Numbering almost 850 items, the Thaw Collection is representative of a broad geographic range of North American Indian cultures spanning 2000 years including the Northwest Coast, Woodlands, Plains, Southwest, Arctic, California, and Great Basin regions.
Fenimore Art Museum is open April 1st to December 31st and includes the Fenimore Café where you can enjoy a light lunch, a glass of wine, or a locally brewed beer and the Fenimore Museum Shop which carries elegant jewelry from regional artists, Native American works of art, books and gifts related to fine art, folk art and the history of New York State. Hours and admission costs are listed on their website.
While there, be sure to take a walk around the back of the museum and enjoy the grounds with its beautiful gardens while taking in the view of Otsego Lake that James Fenimore Cooper no doubt looked out upon himself when his own home stood on the site.
Across the road from the Fenimore Art Museum is a museum of another sort which is probably the second best-known attraction in Cooperstown outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame. A cultural treasure filled with attractions that highlight regional art and heritage, The Farmer’s Museum is located on land that has been part of a working farm since 1813 when it was part of Cooper's Fenimore Farm.
In 1829 the property was bought by Samuel Nelson who served as a United States Supreme Court Justice for 27 years from 1845 to 1872. Judge Nelson, whose former office is part of the Farmer's Museum Village, raised sheep on the farm until his death in 1873 at which time the property was bought by the Clark family. In 1918, Edward Severin Clark built a showcase complex for his prize cattle which included the Colonial Revival-style stone barn, creamery, and herdsman's cottage that still stand as part of the museum today.
Opening to the public in 1944, which makes it one of of the country's oldest rural life museums, The Farmer's Museum recreates rural life from the 19th century through interactive workshops and exhibits in more than two dozen authentic pre-1840 historic buildings which were all brought in from the upstate New York area. Museum buildings include a tavern, a printing office, a pharmacy, a blacksmith's shop, a doctor's office, a general store, and the Lippett Farmstead - circa 1797 - which has been meticulously restored and preserved as a living example of how a farm would have operated in the mid-19th century complete with the appropriate farm animals.
In addition to the Cardiff Giant - one of the most famous hoaxes in United States history perpetrated by New York tobacconist George Hull and his cousin William Newell in 1869, The Farmer's Museum is also home to the Empire State Carousel, a hand-crafted carousel that celebrates New York State’s history through its 25 hand-carved animals – all of which have a story and a name – as well as folklore and notable figure panels on the rounding boards.
Called a "museum that you can ride on," the carousel was first conceived in 1983 by head carver Gerry Holzman (an Inslip, NY humanities teacher) and features original contributions by over 1,000 New York volunteer artisans and artists. The carousel, which includes eight-foot curved murals depicting moments in New York history and its hand-crafted band organ, were donated to The Farmers’ Museum by the Empire State Carousel Association and opened on Memorial Day in 2006 to the continued delight of carousel lovers both young and old alike.
Should you be a baseball fan (and chances are if you're in Cooperstown, you just might be!) and want to pay homage to the Sultan of Swat, Hammerin’ Hank, and the Splendid Splinter, then you definitely need to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame which is located in a 3-story brick building on Main Street.
Once considered to be the birthplace of baseball, Cooperstown has been the home of the Hall of Fame since June 1939 when Babe Ruth and Cy Young were on hand to help celebrate the museum's grand opening along with 10,000 baseball fans - who outnumbered the population of the village by about 7,000 people.
The repository of all things baseball was built through the efforts of Stephen C. Clark - yes, the same Stephen C. Clark who brought the Fenimore Art Museum to life - who was one of Cooperstown's biggest benefactors as the grandson of Edwin Clark who had made his family fortune as one of the original partners of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The Clark Family made many, many contributions to Cooperstown (and still do) with one of Stephen's most enduring being the shrine to baseball that stands across the street from the spot where he once put the "Doubleday Baseball" on display in the town's current municipal building.
For more on that historic baseball that started it all, the reason that Cooperstown touted itself to be the birthplace of baseball for awhile, and lots more about the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, head over to read my companion post: Baseball's Creation Myth and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That post also includes information on Doubleday Field which is located just down the street from the Hall of Fame and is well worth a stop for a look-around even if there isn't a game going on.
Close by Doubleday Field in Pioneer Alley, the Cooperstown Farmer’s Market (101 Main St) is open on Saturdays year-round as well as on Tuesdays in July and August. The market features 30 vendors from within a 50 mile radius of Cooperstown offering jams, baked goods, maple syrup, fresh fruits and vegetables, pottery, candles, soaps, hand-crafted goods, and more.
Sponsored by Otsego 2000 since 1991, the market's mission is to "support local growers, producers, and artisans by promoting and providing a marketing outlet for their goods while also fostering social gathering and interaction among residents while enhancing the quality of life in Cooperstown." If you're not sure what to do with some of those fresh items that you're going to want to pick up at the Farmer's Market, recipes are available on their website here.
Nearby in the center of the historic downtown area, The Smithy Gallery & Clay Studio (55 Pioneer St) occupies the oldest building in Cooperstown built by Judge William Cooper as a blacksmith shop in 1786. With many of the original features (forges, bellows, anvils and various tools of the trade) still occupying the first floor, the historic building houses three floors of exhibition space showcasing a variety of work by talented local and regional fine artists and craftsmen. Open May through October, Tuesdays-Sunday, you can view the exhibitions for free though donations are gratefully accepted at the door.
Elsewhere in the historic downtown area of the village you'll find a number of shops with a lot of them catering to baseball fans including the Cooperstown Bat Company (118 Main St) which is one of the oldest baseball bat companies in America; Mickey's Place (74 Main St) featuring America's largest collection of current and old-time baseball hats along with other apparel and equipment; Yastremski Sports (75 Main St) with baseball cards from the 1880s to present, authenticated autographs, and Cooperstown souvenirs; and the Where It All Began Bat Company (87 Main St) with an extensive inventory of Rawlings "on-field use" and Louisville Slugger souvenir baseball bats all of which can be personalized with up to three lines of engraving - just to name a few!
In the non-baseball category of stores, Riverwood (88 Main St) offers puzzles, games, toys, jewelry, and other gifts; the Silver Fox Gift Shop (139 Main St) features contemporary gifts, cards, etc; and Schneider's Bakery (157 Main St) has been appealing to baked good lovers since 1887 with a delicious variety of doughnuts, cakes, cookies, moon pies and other goodies.
If you're hungry - and at some point you're sure to be! - downtown dining choices include the Doubleday Café (93 Main St) which provides a comfortable atmosphere with a menu that has something for everyone - including the picky little eaters among you. For a taste of Italy, Nicoletta's Italian Café (96 Main St) offers elegant dining in a family-friendly - yet romantic - atmosphere and boasts such clientele as Reggie Jackson, Cal Ripken, Jr., Roger Clemens, James Earl Jones, and Larry King.
Danny's Main Street Market (92 Main St) invites you to design your own sandwich or chose one of their hot or cold specialties. Family-owned and operated for over 20 years, Danny's also offers fresh brick oven-baked breads, hand-rolled & boiled bagels, homemade muffins and scones along with other gourmet provisions to create a terrific picnic lunch to enjoy by Otsego Lake. A few doors up at Sal's Pizzeria (110 Main St) you can grab a slice or two of pizza or a whole pie or maybe a sub to take out or eat there at their spacious dining room.
As far as I'm concerned though, no trip to Cooperstown would be complete without a stop at the Cooperstown Diner (136-1/2 Main St) where they serve up what are definitely the biggest burgers in what is certainly the tiniest diner around! With only 26 seats you might have to wait a bit to get in but it’s worth it – especially if you like classic diner food including a cheeseburger so big you can hardly wrap your mouth around it and some mighty fine pie including my favorite - Coconut Cream!
For dining of a different sort in a rather unexpected atmosphere, it's well worth it to go off the beaten path and travel outside of the downtown area where you'll find organic, locally-sourced food being freshly prepared at Origins Café (558 Beaver Meadow Rd) located in the greenhouse at Carefree Gardens Greenhouse and Nursery.
And yes, that's right, you didn't read that wrong, I most definitely wrote that it was IN the greenhouse!
Starting in 2012 with the seed of an idea to "connect the growers and eaters within the community and to bring people together around a table of food that's grown with respect for the environment," sisters Kristen and Dana Leonard opened a unique dining experience with a menu that changes daily featuring super-fresh – and super delicious food and drinks gathered from local farms and their own on-site garden. Don't expect to run in and out but sit back, relax and enjoy your meal in the ambiance of beautiful flowering plants, gurgling water fountains, and soothing music while your food is made to order just the way you like it. Menus change daily but if the Mac n’ Cheese with Piggy Bacon is there look no further as it’s amazing but do be sure to save room for some dessert!
Another great place to eat outside of the village is at the Brewery Ommegang (656 County Road 33) which opened in 1997 and has been crafting popular fine Belgian-style ales ever since. Located on a 136-acre farmstead that used to be a hops farm (Cooperstown was once the hop-growing capital of North America) as the first farmstand brewery built in the United States in over 100 years, you can take a free tour of the brewery before sampling a tasting of 6 different Ommegang beers for $5.00 which also includes a complimentary tasting glass to take home with you.
Tours and tastings are available seven days a week on the hour with the first tour beginning at 12 pm and the last at 4 pm; there are no tours on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, during their annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival, or when a concert is scheduled. Tours (limited to 20 people, no children under 5 allowed) and tastings (limited to 25) fill up fast so be sure to arrive early and check in at the Café Host Stand to secure a tour and/or tasting pass.
Before or after your tour and tasting, you can enjoy Belgian-style cuisine at Café Ommegang where you can choose to sit at the bar, enjoy traditional "old world" communal dining in the 100-seat café, or enjoy a meal on the scenic patio during the warmer months. Menu listings, which feature Belgian-themed foods using locally-grown ingredients, include the official dish of Belgium - beer-steamed mussels and fries. All eight of their award-winning craft beers are available at the café along with a rotating selection of Ommegang specials and limited editions - some of which may or may not have been made into a tasty dessert! Don't forget to stock up at the brewery's on-site store before you leave or if you're in the area when one is scheduled, take in some music during their hugely popular Summer Concert Series. For more information on their special events, you can check their blog.
Speaking of spirits - the drinking type not the haunting type, I'll get to those in a moment a little further down - if they're your thing then you're sure to enjoy traveling the Cooperstown Beverage Trail which holds the distinction of being New York State's first official cuisine trail. Winding 37 miles through Cooperstown and the surrounding area, the trail boasts a total of nine destinations including breweries, wineries, a distillery and an historic cider mill, all making world-class beverages for visitors to enjoy. In addition to Brewery Ommegang, trail stops include Bear Pond Winery (2515 Route State Route 28, Oneonta), Cooperstown Brewing Company (110 River St; Milford), Butternuts Beer & Ale (4020 NY 51, Garrattsville), Rustic Ridge Winery (2805 State Route 80, Burlington Flats), Cooperstown Distillery (73 Main St), Pail Shop Vineyards (126 Goose St, Fly Creek), and Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard (288 Goose St, Fly Creek).
For a great family stop on the Cooperstown Beverage Trail, stop by the historic water-powered Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard owned and operated by the Michaels family who has been pressing apples into delicious cider since 1962 using the 150+ year-old original press powered by water from the Fly Creek mill pond. After a self-guided tour of the cider mill processing area known as the Cider Gallery located on the second level of the mill, head downstairs where you can sample over 40 specialty foods in the Mill Store Marketplace, There you’ll find mill-aged cheeses and fresh mill-made fudge along with apple wines and hard ciders which you can sample before purchasing. They also offer a number of grape and fruit-type wines from other parts of New York to sample and buy.
If you still have room after all that sampling of apple salsa, fruit preserves, dips, marinades, and more, grab lunch or a snack at the mill’s Restaraunt and Bakery located in a restored barn where you can enjoy a hot pot roast sandwich, soup in a fresh-baked bread bowl, an Apple Cider Slushie, or maybe an Apple Cider Doughnut Sundae while the kids feed the ducks or play in Tractorland. With plenty of covered picnic tables, a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk around the millpond, and display of vintage John Deere tractors, there's something for everyone at the Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard. Don't forget to buy a fresh-baked pie - also available in half-pie sizes if you want more than one flavor - before you leave!
Should you choose to wander a little further afield and want to spend some time in the fresh air, approximately 8 miles outside of the village of Cooperstown overlooking the northern end of Otsego Lake you'll find Glimmerglass State Park (1527 County Road 31), a 593-acre state park offering swimming, camping, hiking trails, and fishing - though a New York fishing license is required if you’re over 14.
On the grounds you can visit the circa-1824 Hyde Hall Covered Bridge - the oldest existing covered bridge in New York State which served as part of the original drive to historic Hyde Hall - a 50-room country house overlooking the lake that took 17 years to complete.
Conceived and constructed by George Clarke (1768-1835), an Englishman whose great grandfather and namesake was prominent in the colonial government of New York, Hyde Hall (267 Glimmerglass State Park Rd) is considered to be the finest example of a neo-Classical country mansion anywhere in the United States combining the architectural designs of both North America and England.
Built over a period of time between 1817 and 1834 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986, the home - which at the time it was built was the largest private home in the United States - contains much of the family's original furnishings and artifacts and is open for tours from the end of May to the end of October beginning at 10 am with the last tour departing at 4 pm.
In addition to the mansion, the Hyde Hall Historic Site also includes the Tin Top Visitor Center, the Caretaker's Cottage, the Stone House - which was the first phase of Hyde Hall - and the family crypt. Of course like any good vacant old house that sits atop a hillside overlooking a lake, Hyde Hall has been reportedly haunted for well over a century. In 2013 the Ghost Hunters® filmed Season 9, Episode 16 for their show on the SyFy channel at Hyde Hall recording what they said was "some very compelling evidence of a haunting"; you can watch here should be curious as to what they found or should you be compelled to check things out for yourself, each year during the summer season, special evening ghost tours are offered to focus on the ghostly events and places featured in the program while exclusive candle-lit tours take place during the month of October. Reservations are required so be sure to check the Events Page on their website.
For some hauntingly beautiful music, not far from Glimmerglass State Park, the Glimmerglass Festival presents a summer-only season of four operas in what is the second-largest opera festival in the United States. Formerly known as Glimmerglass Opera, performances take place at the 914-seat Alice Busch Opera Theater which, following the opening of the Metropolitan Opera facility in 1966, was the first American hall designed specifically for opera in 21 years. Built with unique sliding side walls that allow the audience to enjoy fresh air prior to and during performances, visitors are encouraged to dress for comfort in warm or cool weather.
Located in a pastoral setting that invites strolling and picnicking, opera-goers can bring their own picnic or pre-order a gourmet picnic featuring the finest local ingredients from the Black Cat Café delivered fresh to the theater two hours before the performance. The link to order a picnic as well as other on-site dining options can be found here.
If you're going to be visiting Cooperstown, you're obviously going to need some place to stay as seriously, who would want to stay just one day? Though there are chain motels in the area they aren't very close to the village so if you choose one of them you wouldn't be able to just park your car and walk around however, there are three parking lots approaching the town from different directions where you can park for free and ride the trolley for just $2 all day which is a very good deal.
To really enjoy the quaint charm of Cooperstown though, pick a place in the historic village area like the 43-room Lake Front Hotel (10 Fair St) located on the water by the Cooperstown Marina Lighthouse. Just a stone's throw away is Lakefront Park with its bronze 1898 statue of the Indian Hunter by John Quincy Adams Ward (a replica of the one that stands in New York's Central Park that was cast in 1866.) Also within easy walking distance is Clinton Dam, built in 1779 by soldiers under the command of General James Clinton during the American Revolution, and Council Rock, a large boulder just off shore that was believed to be a meeting place for Native Americans in the area prior to the Revolutionary War.
Family-owned and operated for the past 50 years, the hotel was recently rebuilt and renovated and provides guests with beautiful water views along with free WiFi and parking. In season (Memorial Day to Columbus Day) guests receive a complimentary breakfast at The Lake Front Restaurant and Bar which also serves up lunch, dinner, and live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Mohican Motel (90 Chestnut St) is a nice little Mom & Pop place also within walking distance of most everything offering clean, comfortable rooms with prices that won't break the bank. Room choices include one double bed, one king size bed, two doubles, or three doubles which is really nice if you're traveling with a group of friends. Each room has individual heat control, air conditioning, hi-speed WiFi, DVD player, in-room coffee and refrigerator and there's a nice little bench just outside your door where you can sit and enjoy the evening air.
An excellent example of Second Empire architecture that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Inn at Cooperstown (16 Chestnut St) was built in 1874 and fully restored in 1985. A member of Select Registry, the inn is just a short walk from the Baseball Hall of Fame and has 18 guest rooms all with private baths, air-conditioning, WiFi, and a complimentary breakfast. There are a limited number of adjoining guest rooms that are perfect for families or friends traveling together as well as several guest rooms that can accommodate a party of three, and one luxury suite which can accommodate up to five guests. The inn offers an array of special packages as well as an array of awesome rockers on the veranda where guests can relax after a day of exploring the village.
Across and up the street a tiny bit, The Cooper Inn (corner of Main & Chestnut Streetss) offers 15 rooms decorated with period details and unique old-world décor in a Federal-style brick inn located in a park-like setting. Originally known as Willowbrook, named for the stately willow trees and meandering stream nearby, the house changed ownership several times until it was bought by the Clark Family in 1927. In 1939 the house was converted into a 4-room inn before being expanded to 15 rooms due to the increasing popularity of the Baseball Hall of Fame with renovations in 1999 adding more private bathrooms and modern amenities.
Open year-round and serving a complimentary continental breakfast in their elegant dining room each morning, guests also have access to the recreational and dining facilities of the nearby Otesaga Resort Hotel which includes reduced greens fees at the resort's Leatherstocking Golf Course (60 Lake St.) An 18-hole championship course set along the western shoreline of Lake Otsego that was designed in 1909 by Devereux Emmet, the course is considered by many to be one of the East's most scenic and challenging resort golf courses.
Of course if you really want to make your trip to Cooperstown a memorable one then you can't leave out the "Grand Dame" hotel of Cooperstown - the absolutely magnificent Otesaga Resort Hotel (60 Lake St) which occupies 700 feet of lakefront on the southern shore of Otsego Lake and is jaw-dropping - at least it was for me when I first saw it!
Completed in 1909, the hotel exudes the charm and hospitality of a bygone era with an amazing view of the lake from the back veranda where guests can relax in white wooden rocking chairs while watching golfers finish up on the Leatherstocking Golf Course’s 18th hole or sip a drink while simply enjoying the view. Either way it's all good - really, really good!
A member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America, the seasonal resort has a heated outdoor pool, fitness center, and canoe, rowboat, and paddleboard rentals for those who’d like to spend some time out on the lake. Dining options include the Hawkeye Bar & Grill with casual dining either indoors or out and the elegant Glimmerglass dining room overlooking the lake which serves the most amazing breakfast buffet ever. For more information and photos about the Otesaga, check out my companion post that has a lot more photos of this stately and refined hotel here.
In summation, Cooperstown is more than baseball - a lot more than baseball. Yes, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is a good reason to visit - especially if you're a fan of the game - but even if your only goal on a vacation was to visit a place where you could find a place to do nothing more than just sit and take in the beauty of nature as you relax and enjoy being outdoors, it would be worth it to make that rather lengthy jaunt off the highway and through a good chunk of New York countryside to get to Cooperstown to do just that. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't mind wandering back that way again myself sometime and relax a bit - after I get a cheeseburger at the Cooperstown Diner and some cider at the Fly Creek Cider Mill and take a ride on the carousel at The Farmer's Museum and ... !
For more information to help you plan your own wanderings around this awesome village in New York,
check out This Is Cooperstown which contains all sorts of great information and suggestions!
check out This Is Cooperstown which contains all sorts of great information and suggestions!