Cooperstown, New York

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Cooperstown, New York

Home to the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, a restored nineteenth-century frontier town and country village of about 2,300 inhabitants at the close of the twentieth century, is visited annually by up to 400,000 tourists. Baseball has been described as America's national pastime, and it is fair to say that Cooperstown, in central New York State, draws to its village thousands of American tourists in search of their country's national identity.

When the National Baseball Hall of Fame opened in 1939, Americans from coast to coast read about it and heard radio broadcasts of the opening induction ceremonies. Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Grover Alexander, and Walter Johnson were among those inducted as the hall's first members. Every year on the day after the annual inductions, a Major League game is played at nearby Doubleday Field, seating approximately ten thousand, on the spot where many believe baseball to have originated. A legend of the origin of baseball claims that the game was developed in Cooperstown in 1839. According to a three-year investigation of the Mills Commission in the early 1900s, Abner Doubleday and his young friends played a game of "Town Ball" with a hand-stitched ball and a four-inch flat bat. Doubleday is said to have introduced bases, created the positions of pitcher and catcher, and established the rules that defined the game of baseball. Though this legend is disputed by some, even those who disagree accept the village as a symbolic home for the game's creation.

Philanthropist and Cooperstown native Stephen C. Clark founded the Baseball Hall of Fame. Clark inherited his fortune from his grandfather, Edward Clark, who earned his wealth as a partner to Isaac Merrit Singer, inventor of the Singer sewing machine. Through the generosity of the Clark family toward their birthplace, Cooperstown gained not only the baseball museum, but also a variety of other attractions. In the nineteenth century, when Cooperstown was becoming a summer retreat, Edward Clark built Kingfisher Tower, a sixty-foot-high tower that overlooks the natural beauty of Otsego Lake, which spans nine miles north from its shore at Cooperstown. Stephen Clark and his brother, Edward S. Clark, built the Bassett Hospital to honor Dr. Mary Imogene Bassett, a general practitioner of Cooperstown and one of the first female physicians in America. Stephen Clark also brought the New York State Historical Association to Cooperstown in 1939; the village has since been the annual summer site of the association's seminars on American culture and folk art. In 1942, Stephen Clark established the Farmer's Museum, a cultural attraction that displays the customs of pre-industrial America. The museum continued to grow with the 1995 addition of an American Indian Wing containing more than six hundred artifacts that reflect the cultural diversity and creativity of Native Americans.

The exhibits of Native American culture are well suited to Cooperstown since it was a traditional fishing area of the Susquehannock and the Iroquois Indians until Dutch fur traders occupied it in the seventeenth century. It was also the birthplace of James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), the early nineteenth-century writer whose novels romantically depict Native Americans and the frontier life of early America. The Pioneers (1823), the first of Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, is a novel set in the blossoming village of Cooperstown, and one of its main characters is based on James Fenimore Cooper's father, Judge William Cooper, the founder of the village in 1786. Another of Cooper's works, The Chronicles of Cooperstown (1838), provides a history of the village. The novel The Deerslayer (1841) takes place at Otsego Lake during the beginning of the French and Indian War.

An additional Cooperstown attraction, the Glimmerglass Opera opened in 1975 with performances in the auditorium of the Cooperstown High School. In 1987, the Alice Busch Opera Theater was completed to permanently host the Glimmerglass, which has become an internationally recognized organization, producing performances for thirty-six thousand opera fans during the summer festival seasons.

Overall, Cooperstown provides many opportunities to enjoy American culture. Appreciating the music, viewing the scenery, experiencing the American past in this historic village with its cultural museums and the National Baseball Hall of Fame appeals to many as an enjoyable diversion.

—Sharon Brown

Further Reading:

Birdsall, Ralph. The Story of Cooperstown. Cooperstown, A. H.Christ Co., 1920.

Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce. Visitor's Guide. Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, Cooperstown, 1998.

Jones, Louis Clark. Cooperstown. Cooperstown, New York State Historical Association, 1982.

New York State Historical Association, Main Street, Cooperstown: A Mile of Memories. Cooperstown, New York State Historical Association, 1992.

Smith, Ken. Baseball's Hall of Fame. New York, Grosset and Dunlap, 1958.

Taylor, Alan. William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

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Cooperstown, New York

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