Discovering the Village of Cooperstown NY
A quaint Upstate New York travel destination that is a pure, wholesome trip back in time
Left, aerial photo of Village of Cooperstown (and beyond). Photo credit: ThisIsCooperstown.com
There was an older man sitting with his wife on a bench at Lakefront Park. The sun was going down, and Otsego Lake couldn't have looked any more beautiful with its pristine color of the day --limestone -- and the gentle rolling green hills framing the body of water. The man from Georgia, who appeared to be worldly, opened his tired eyes and said, "You know, this is nice."
He said it as if this was the best placed he ever visited. My wife and I nodded, in agreement, telling him that we visit Cooperstown, NY, every year. We said that it was indeed the greatest place we have ever visited, and that, in no way, was based on being a tourist. Without living there, we thought, it is our second home.
Cooperstown may be a tourist destination, but ultimately it is small-town America at its most beautiful. Seventy miles southwest of Albany, NY, and 45 miles southeast of Utica, NY, Cooperstown is a place where people proudly live in well-maintained homes, and close-knit family-oriented neighborhoods --close to Otsego Lake and the toy village-like charm of Main St. From the big but not ostentatious homes on Nelson Ave. and Pine Blvd. to the peaceful tree-lined residential streets like Beaver, Eagle, Delaware and Elm, Cooperstown never overwhelms you. It is not about a honky-tonk, traffic laden, and let's-see-how-much- we- can- buy mentality. Rather, Cooperstown is an authentic village void of corporate America leanings, fast food chains, and most importantly, stress. You can see the pride of the people, be it a long-time Cooperstown native viewing the pleasing sunrise above the scenic Susquehanna River, or the new residents trading the Big Apple rat race for a walk with the family and an eternal small-town smile to the world.
Village appears to be Norman Rockwell
fully realized, in living color. Three elderly brothers walk the
streets in baseball clothing, as close as can be. Little children
stare, for extended amounts of time, at the range of baseball
memorabilia at stores. Mothers walk their babies down "Main Street USA"
and fathers see their boyhood baseball heroes through the windows of
their souls--first their eyes, then beyond the glass displays in The
Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Romance indeed lives, not in a
Shakespearian sense, but in "It's a Wonderful Life" way--small town
America coming together. Perhaps James Fenimore Cooper
said it best in 1837, about his beloved surroundings: "Lying, as it
does, off the great routes, the village of Cooperstown is less known
than it deserves to be. Few persons visit it, without
acknowledging the beauties of its natural scenery, and the general
neatness and decency of the place itself. ... Everything
shows a direction towards ... an improving civilization."
A Sunday morning in church on peaceful Elm St., a seat in the Adirondack chair overlooking Otsego Lake at the Blue Mingo Grill, or a walk--just a walk-- is enough to inspire sunshine in one's soul that is brighter than the sun. There may be only one traffic light in town, but no matter where you spend your time in this quaint village, the green light is always on to have a great time.
The Village takes care of its residents quite well. Sometimes towns with tourists lose vision of the people who live in town, all in the name of the mighty buck. This is not the case in Cooperstown, as can be well evidenced by community pride and services often seen in larger communities -- for example, the highly developed, state-of-the-art Bassett Healthcare (a network of three hospitals and 21 health care facilities located across Central New York, with the main facility in Cooperstown) and the modern Clark Sports Center, which offers residents and visitors comprehensive recreational opportunities ranging from a swimming pool to a well laid-out workout area.
Tourism does boom in this quaint, friendly small town, as baseball souvenir shops have grown considerably over the past 15 years to align with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's stately and historical presence on Main St. Thousands of families visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum every summer crowding the streets in a sea of happiness, ice cream, and wide-eyed, kid-like wonderment on how a small town can bring such big joy. The city and suburbs just can't do this.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (25 Main St.), is indeed the centerpiece of Main St., and truly one of the great cultural sports treasures in our country. Proudly residing in a stately large, brick building with a new, inviting outside entrance, the Hall of Fame gives us goosebumps even from looking at the exterior. It has this amazing aura and commanding but welcoming presence. The National Baseball Hall of Fame Hall and Museum's mission is to "relive the history of the National Pastime, through artifacts from historic records, to the plaques of the game's greatest players in the Hall of Fame Gallery," according to its literature. Once inside, that mission comes to life whether it be the incredible New York Yankees displays, an Abbott and Costello "Who's on First," movie clip, a wonderful baseball card display, or, of course, the memorable and historical Baseball Hall of Fame where one can read plaques all day on all the great players inducted into this illustrious museum.The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has a wonderful library and an appealing park area, perfect for a short stroll or yet another perspective on Otsego Lake. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-see for the baseball fan or anyone with an interest in history. It is, simply, one of life's great joys.
Staying in Cooperstown extends well beyond visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame, however. Isn't that remarkable, given the greatness of the Hall of Fame? For starters, one of the best testimonies to a community is never feeling like you've completely walked the entire community, no matter how many times you have strolled the area. The splendid and myriad Victorians gracefully lining Chestnut St. deserve more than one look. Turning from Chestnut St. onto Main St. and seeing the colorful hanging baskets, wide sidewalks, well-maintained interesting and colorful shops seemingly needs to be retraced at least 10 or 20 times a day.
On the corner of Main and Chestnut Sts. is a splendid and inviting introduction to the town: Schneider's Bakery (157 Main St.). A long-time Cooperstown favorite, Schneider's has the heavenly smell of donuts (far better than those chain stores offering the slightly fresh version) and other handmade baked goods piercing through the old fashioned windows. On the Chestnut St. side, bakers can be seen through the window making their sugar-themed magic. Inside is a comfortable little shop that looks the way it did many years ago. A few doors down from Schneider's, Hubbell's Real Estate displays inviting affordable-to-extravagant Cooperstown real estate offerings in its window, drawing myriad couples considering a move to a simpler life.
The shops spanning a few blocks on Main St. represent individual slices of locally-owned Americana. The Cooperstown General Store (45 Main St.) is huge and carries everything from socks to Adirondack chairs. The help is always friendly and emphasizes service -- the way its predecessors McCrory's and Kresge's conducted their business in this exact location. Davidson's Jewelry/Augur's Bookstore (73 Main St.) also favors service. Whether it is a wedding diamond ring or a book written by Yogi Berra, the staff makes sure to help the customer. In its display window, there are books on how Walmart is destroying America, but you would never know it by the way locals and tourists support local businesses on Main St. Down the street the Willis Monie bookstore (139 Main St.) has books piled up to the ceiling. It is a fascinating trip back in time, including that old book smell we remember from elementary school. For women, Ellsworth and Sill (79 Main St.) brings back a nice selection of women's traditional clothing in a nice, unpressured atmosphere. The older women managing the store and the racks of discounted clothing at the outdoor entrance make for a warm shopping experience.
Across the street is Danny's Market (92 Main St.), which celebrates the glory of community-oriented food shopping in a small, old-fashioned store, where, somehow, one can find anything. The anti-supermarket superstore, Danny's has a beautiful green and tan awning out front, and inside, an impressive deli counter, on the premise hearth-cooked breads, delicious baked goods, and a few seats to eat while reading the paper under the ceiling fans.
Right next to Danny's is The Riverwood retail store (88 Main St.). Ignoring the either overly precious/pretentious or hokey elements of so many other modern-day gift shops, the Riverwood chooses to display a fabulous array of unique and hard-to-find gifts in a friendly setting. You'd have to see it for yourself, but the presentation is simply "the right mix." It's amazing how much merchandise owner Rick Gibbons can fit into a small store. You'll find art and fine craft (and photo prints) by local artists and artisans, Brighton purses and accessories created for all ages, commemorative baseball-style "home plates," as well as jewelry, wind chimes, leather goods, toys, puzzles and games and locally-made soaps. Gibbons is an exceptionally nice, charismatic gentleman who really has "pride of ownership" written all over him. His staff is nice, too, especially Tierney who has been quite helpful and knowledgeable every time we visit the store. Here's proof that stores on Main Street in Cooperstown are so much more than "baseball!"
Also near Danny's is Tin Bin Alley (114 Main St.), which has a nostalgic country store-like feel with the aroma of candles, and a wide variety of "feel good" gifts like jams, jellies, homemade fudge, old-fashioned candies, hanging wooden signs, nostalgic tins, toys, jewelry and greeting cards.
Out of all the baseball shops, Mickey's Place (74 Main St.) seems to have one of the highest batting averages in regards to stores we like. Named after the late New York Yankee star Mickey Mantle -- who was a friend of one of the owners -- Mickey's Place features a large selection of baseball cards, autographed photos and baseballs, authentic baseball caps that go beyond just "Major League" and Major, Minor and World Classic apparel. You can also personalize a Louisville Slugger baseball bat while you wait. I once was able to find a Rochester Red Wings Minor League Baseball League t-shirt for my Dad who grew up and played baseball in Rochester, N.Y., in the 1940s. What a thrill it is for him to wear this shirt! No doubt, Mickey's has a lot of "hard-to-find" baseball merchandise. While Mickey's is officially a retail store, the place seems to almost take on a museum-like quality, as I've found myself almost touring the shop instead of quickly locating and buying things. I highly recommend kids of all ages check out this wonderful baseball retail destination. Additionally, Mickey's Place is a stone's throw (maybe Steve Stone!) away from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum -- what a great way to spend a morning or afternoon!
Doubleday Field (Doubleday Court, off Main St., in the heart of the downtown), one of the best kept baseball fields known, is a great place to catch amateur baseball games for free, all day during the summer. The combination of sun, charming village homes, churches and trees surrounding the park, the picture-perfect green grass on the field, an old-fashioned scoreboard, and some baseball being played by people truly interested in the game, makes for a relaxing, slow-pace-in-the-best-sense afternoon.
We cover many Village restaurants in our Cooperstown restaurants section, but we'll mention our favorite here -- the Doubleday Cafe (93 Main St.). No matter how many restaurants we try every time we visit Cooperstown, we always return to the Doubleday Cafe. With its spirited bar/restaurant setting with high ceilings, brick walls, and picture-windows overlooking the lively colorful Main St., the Doubleday Cafe acts as sort of an unofficial community meeting place for locals as well as informed visitors who know the greatness of this Cooperstown dining landmark. Hitting a home run with virtually every breakfast, lunch and dinner item we've tried, we love the Doubleday for its food, its quick and friendly service, reasonable pricing and its pride of ownership. It's a terrific place for an omelet, salad, burger or fish or steak dinner special as well as some really great gooey, chocolate-based desserts Not only does the Doubleday Cafe capture the spirit of Cooperstown within its modest settings, but it does so with perhaps the most consistently good food in the Village.
Before, during or after the game, there are well-run Village ice cream shops to enhance your Cooperstown stay, including Carmen Esposito's Italian Ices (69 Main St.) serving addictive flavored ices, homemade ice cream and gelati -- root beer with vanilla gelati is the recommended choice.
Walking nearly outside the village will bring you to another source of Cooperstown splendor, the Otesaga Resort Hotel (60 Lake St.) -- a stunning piece of expansive Federal hotel architecture in operation since 1909. It's every bit as impressive looking as a Newport, R.I., mansion. We recommend checking out the hotel for a possible stay and definitely having dinner at the Hawkeye Grill, an upscale-type restaurant that allows informal (but neat) attire. It's family-friendly and has outdoor summer dining overlooking Otsego Lake. The food -- creative turns on steak, chicken and seafood -- is quite good and always consistent.
While on the subject of Village of Cooperstown lodging, you'll find many quaint places to stay. Our favorites are the Cooperstown Bed and Breakfast, Barnwell Inn and Nelson Avenue Pines. You can check out full descriptions of these places and more at our Cooperstown Lodging page.
Just beyond the Otesaga is The Farmers' Museum (5775 Route 80) which portrays rural life in early times. An herbal pharmacy, blacksmithing, weaving, printing, stick ball games, music, the great Empire State Carousel, farming, -- with many different animals -- and more make for a lively afternoon. Unlike other places of this ilk, it's not forced or hokey. Everything seems authentic. Virtually across the street is the Fenimore Art Museum (5790 Route 80), "home to one of the country's premier folk art collections, and now the American Indian Wing with a dazzling collection and galleries 'any museum in the world would envy.'" (The New York Times). The Fenimore Museum also has great kids activities; we particularly enjoyed the gingerbread house-making class. So did the kids.
The museums attracts visitors year round for special events such as The Farmers' Museum Candlelight Evening in December. The Candlelight evening represents the true essence of the holiday season with a beautiful Christmas tree, musical performances by local schools, delicious wassail, a wonderful Santa Claus telling great childrens' stories, horse-drawn carriage rides, warm, comfort food in the tavern, thousands of lights illuminating the beautiful countryside, and beautiful voices either singing holiday songs. The weather might be cold, but the feeling is ultimately warm at this grand Farmer's Museum event.
The overall feeling that Cooperstown offers goes beyond the written word. If the words sound appealing here, your Cooperstown vacation will bring that special feeling out in multi-dimensional ways. Someday, whether it's a permanent or summer home, we envision ourselves sitting hand-in-hand on a Lakefront Park bench staring at the marvelous lake. and saying or thinking the words,"This is nice." The words already play in our mind every time we think of Cooperstown, America's most perfect village.
For more information on Cooperstown, NY, view the Cooperstown Travel Library, Attractions Resource Guide, Calendar of Events, Dining and Lodging sections, and photo gallery
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Unless otherwise stated, all VisitingCooperstown.com articles written and photos taken by Eric H.