This summer, the National Trust for Historic Preservation participated in Pacifico Beer’s Make Adventure Happen promotion. To raise awareness of their participation in this contest, a portion of $100,000 was up for grabs, the National Trust chose five preservation enthusiasts and supporters who wrote Preservation Adventures for locations across the United States. One of these five, Preservation in Pink, wrote about Montpelier, VT. These original blog posts inspired others to write Preservation Adventures for the places that they loved. Bricks + Mortar wrote two, one for Lexington, KY and another for Henderson, KY. I knew, after reading those by the above bloggers, that I wanted to write my own Preservation Adventures for the places that matter to me. A trip this week to Cooperstown, New York told me that the time was right for my first Preservation Adventure post.
What do baseball, The Last of the Mohicans, and the Singer Sewing Machine have in common? If you guessed the inspiration of this Preservation Adventure, Cooperstown, then you are correct. Continue reading to see their connection.
Cooperstown is a small village mostly in the town of Otsego. The eastern edge is a part of the town of Middlefield. Cooperstown is in central New York, about an hour and 20 minutes west of Albany by car. In 2010, the permanent population was 1,852.
Cooperstown was founded by William Cooper, later Judge William Cooper, in 1786. He moved to what was then Otsego Village, named after the lake bordering the village, with his family in 1790. Among his family members arriving in Cooperstown that November was one-year-old James Fenimore Cooper, who would row up and become a famous author, known for The Leatherstocking Tales, which included The Last of The Mohicans.
A later resident of Cooperstown was none other than Abner Doubleday, fabled inventor of baseball. It is one reason why the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is located on Main Street and why “heading to Cooperstown” for a baseball player is synonymous with “being inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
Another reason why the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is in Cooperstown, and why the village is the way it is, is the Clark family who earned their money through the Singer Sewing Machine, for which they owned half of the patent. It is through Stephen Clark that the Hall came into existence in 1936, bolstered by the previously-existing Cooperstown baseball origin myth. The first induction was in 1939. The family was also involved in the establishment of Bassett Hospital, which is also in Cooperstown. Clark continues to be a prominent name in the village and much good comes to the village and its residents from the Clark Foundation.
*A note before starting: I use the term “the season” throughout this post, as the off-season is the Winter in Cooperstown. The season for the various places I’ll mention, however differ (some have longer seasons than others) so check online or by phone with these places before making plans.*
Stay: Historic B&Bs
Cooperstown is full of wonderful lodgings. This is Cooperstown lists 43 in and immediately surrounding Cooperstown. Many are in walking distance to the shops on Main Street. The Baseball Bed & Breakfast on Chestnut Street visually can’t be missed when you are in Cooperstown, its bright yellow paint color makes it a beacon of a landmark. Friends who have stayed here have not been disappointed. Next is the Tunnicliff Inn, located right off of Main Street on Pioneer Street, which is easily the most convenient location as it is in the middle of the village. It sits across the street from Stagecoach Coffee and has a restaurant in its basement. Also on Chestnut Street is the Inn at Cooperstown. I love its exterior architecture, and I have heard nothing but good things about the interior and others’ stays.
If you want to stay somewhere larger, but at something that is still not a franchise, during the season, one can stay at the Otesaga Resort Hotel right on Lake Otsego.
Eat: Where the Locals Eat
For breakfast all day (in addition to lunch and dinner at their rightful hours), head to the Cooperstown Diner on Main Street. It’s a cute little place and very local. Sit at the counter if you are alone, to be nice, as space is a premium here with only a handful of tables. Get a breakfast special or try an omelet. For lunch, grab a burger. You won’t be hungry afterwards. I would come in here and learn a lot about what was going on in the village from the other customers.
Doubleday Café is a yummy place for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. My favorite dinner there is the Greek Burger with feta, pepperoncinis, and balsamic vinegar, so that’s what I usually order, but any number of their amazing specials could tempt me to change my mind. They have a good happy hour in the winter months and a popcorn machine in the corner for those too hungry to wait for their food to arrive.
Beneath the Tunnicliff Inn is “The Pit”, an underground restaurant with good food. If you are trying to escape the baseball crowd, this is where to go if you want to stay right in the village. Yes, there will still be baseball people there, just not as many, or at least not during the times when I have gone (both in the summer and not). They have a sizeable chili-mac which is very good, but my favorite item on the menu is a blackened Cajun chicken sandwich with mango (or is it pineapple, it’s been a year since I went there) chutney.
The Otesaga has fabulous brunches during the season and for special occasions, as well as a jackets-required 5-course dinner; and the Hawkeye Bar and Grill on the Otesaga’s lower level is also open year-round with yummy offerings for lunch and dinner. Friends and I celebrated my 24th birthday at the Hawkeye.
For coffee, head to Stagecoach on Pioneer Street for a variety of delicious lattes, espressos, mochas, and other coffee drinks as well as smoothies and ice-cream drinks in the summer. They also offer breakfast sandwiches, wonderful baked goods, yummy soups (I love the white bean chicken chili), and an assortment of salads and sandwiches for lunch. If you find that you love their coffee, you can buy a bag of beans to take home.
If you don’t mind the 1/2 hour drive, head into Oneonta for Brooks’ House of BBQ. An area staple for over 40 years, the food is on my can’t-miss-list whenever I’m in town. If you can’t make up your mind on what to get, they do offer a Sampler Dinner. You can bring Brooks’ home with you with an available selection of bottled barbeque sauces.
I noticed that Cooperstown has a few new restaurants that have opened up in the year since I finished grad school and moved away from there. I’m happy to see the investment in the community and look forward to trying these places in visits to come.
What to See and Do: There’s Something For Everyone
Whether you are into art, farms, baseball, shopping, or cemeteries, there is something in and around Cooperstown for everyone.
No matter when you go, please visit any and all of the wonderful shops on and just off of Main Street. When walking around, don’t forget to look up and take in Main Street’s architecture.
Of course, if you are a baseball fan, a stop at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a must. It’s great year round, but if you want the full effect with the greatest assortment of daily programs go in the Summer. Going to Cooperstown in the summer will also give you the chance to take in a game at the historic Doubleday Field. Just be prepared for the sheer number of tourists and higher lodging prices; Cooperstown’s population swells in the summer with baseball oriented families and individuals. Plan way in advance if you intend to take part in the Hall of Fame Induction festivities in July.
If art is more your thing, the Fenimore Art Museum has a fantastic collection of American, Native American, and Folk art with first-class permanent exhibits, and highly impressive temporary and traveling exhibits. The museum is housed in an impressive 1930s stone Georgian Revival House with Neo Classical elements that was given to the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA), the organization that operates the museum, by the previously mentioned Stephen Clark. The property sits on land once occupied by James Fenimore Cooper overlooking Lake Otsego.
Across the street from the Fenimore Art Museum is The Farmers’ Museum. Originally a working farm owned by James Fenimore Cooper, it came under ownership of the Clark family. The impressive stone barn, the creamery building, and herdsman’s cottage were all built in 1918. The Clark family gave the farm to NYSHA, and the museum opened its doors in 1944. Overtime, historic buildings have been moved to the site to create a village atmosphere. It has wonderful events year-round, even when the museum itself is closed for Winter, and a range of animals live there during the season.
I also must mention that if you have any need to do genealogy on NY ancestors while in the area, NYSHA has a great research library next to the Fenimore Art Museum.
If you are an opera fan, Glimmerglass Opera is a wonderful summer experience with performances full of amazing talent. It is only a few miles up the lake from Cooperstown.
Just outside of town is Fly Creek, home to the Fly Creek Cider Mill. It is a must-visit for me. They have dozens of food samples to try each day, ranging from salsas, dips, soups, and baked goods, to apples, wine, cheese, and fudge. You could make a meal out of it, but if you are there in the summer stop by their outdoor cafe for a bite to eat. I spend quite a bit whenever I go to stock up until my next visit (they have an online store too) but I always save some change to buy the ducks and geese that call the Mill Pond home some feed.
Surrounding the Cooperstown area are many lovely antique shops. They vary in price range and differ as to when they are open, but most are worth checking out when you’re there and they’re open. My favorite is a multi-dealer location in nearby Portlandville, a short driving distance away, called Old Gristmill.
Finally, if you are like me and have to visit a local cemetery when you visit a place, you won’t be disappointed in Cooperstown. There are a few within walking distance including the Cooper lot. My favorite is on the outskirts of the village on the Middlefield side, which is Lakewood Cemetery. You’ll want a car to get there, and you’ll want to park it on the middle tier of this sloped cemetery to save yourself from too much of a climb.
With any luck, I’ve provided you with enough to see, do, and eat to last you a short vacation. Please enjoy, Cooperstown is one of my favorite places. I lived here for two years and would love to call it home once more.