Home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown likes to think of itself as the most famous small town in America. It centers on a friendly, old-fashioned Main Street, and boasts a population of just 2,300. To the north are the still waters of Otsego Lake; to the south, east, and west, the rolling, forested hills of Leatherstocking Country.
Cooperstown was first settled in 1790 by William Cooper, father of James Fenimore, America’s first internationally recognized author. The fiercely ambitious Cooper Sr. obtained the land through unscrupulous means during the confusion following the Revolutionary War, then immediately set about establishing himself as a grand gentleman. Within a decade he’d built the largest private home west of Albany, won widespread respect for his skill as a land developer, and established Cooperstown as the Otsego County seat. Later he became a county judge and a representative to the U.S. Congress.
James Fenimore Cooper wrote about Cooperstown in his novel The Pioneers, and set many of his Natty Bumppo tales on the shores of “The Glimmerglass”—Otsego Lake. After travels at sea and abroad, he settled down in his hometown and took over where his father had left off, playing lord of the manor. Cooper was buried in the town’s Christ Church Cemetery in 1851.
In the late 1800s Cooperstown became home to the Clark family, who’d made a fortune in Singer Sewing Machines. Edward Clark, the family patriarch, built a miniature castle called Kingfisher Tower on Otsego Lake in 1876. In the late 1930s and 1940s one of his descendants, Stephen C. Clark, established the town’s three famous museums—the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Farmers’ Museum, and the Fenimore Art Museum.
On a summer’s day, Cooperstown’s population swells by the thousands. Tourists wearing baseball caps and T-shirts are everywhere, and parking can be a major problem. The best approach then is to park in one of the park-and-ride lots on Routes 80 and 28 and ride the free trolley into town. During the off-season, street parking is generally available.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition