My Town: A Young Traveler's Cooperstown
America's quintessential small town is even more charming in the off-season—and all yours, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Our young insider shows you how to cover all the bases
From her bedroom decorated with stars, 13-year-old Claire looks out over nine-mile-long Otsego Lake, one of her favorite places. A student at Cooperstown Central School, Claire loves paddling a canoe and playing tennis. Also, like everyone else in this baseball-crazy village smack in the middle of New York, she can tell you a thing or two about the national pastime. She has a big brother, Nick, a cat named Tigger, and two dogs, Joe and Cal (in honor of Cal Ripken Jr., of course). Her parents, who import Belgian beers, often take the kids on business trips. Claire's top stops so far: Deer Isle, Maine; Pawleys Island, South Carolina; Florence; London; and Brussels. She knows exactly what kids like to do when they're traveling, which makes her the perfect guide to her own hometown.
"Cooperstown is tiny—Main Street is just six blocks long, and there's only one traffic light. It's also packed with people all spring and summer. But in fall and winter everything quiets down, the air is crisp and sparkly, the leaves are beautiful, and then there's lots of snow—it's the perfect time to visit.
The town is named for Judge William Cooper, father of novelist James Fenimore Cooper; he moved here in 1785 when the whole area was a wilderness. Today, though, everyone knows Cooperstown as the birthplace of baseball (a claim always being debated) and the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The story goes that in 1839 a guy named Abner Doubleday marked out a diamond-shaped field in a cow pasture, made some changes to a game called Town Ball, and invented baseball. It caught on here, and then during the Civil War Northern soldiers held captive in the South taught the game to the Confederates. In 1939 the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum opened [25 Main St.; 888/425-5633 or 607/547-7200; www.baseballhalloffame.org], and every year since then new players are inducted. You can see plaques of all the Hall of Famers and lots of other baseball stuff—the glove Willie Mays wore when he made his famous catch in the 1954 World Series; a 1909 Honus Wagner, the world's most valuable baseball card; Ty Cobb's spikes.There's a research library with people who can answer every question you can think of, and a clip of the old Abbott and Costello routine "Who's on First" runs all the time. The Hall is undergoing renovations until 2005, but don't worry, it's still open.
Just down Main Street from the Hall is Doubleday Field, which sits on that old cow pasture (look for the Sandlot Kid statue out front). The stadium is very quaint and the field is small, so players hit homers here all the time. I've run the bases, and our school's varsity team plays here. Other teams come to play too, and you can watch most games free.
If you're not totally baseball-obsessed, there are lots of other cool things to do. Fenimore Art Museum [Lake Rd., off Rte. 80; 888/547-1450 or 607/547-1400] has a big collection of Native American art—masks and drums and buffalo robes—and a real Iroquois log house that you can go into, beside the lake. Across the street is the Farmers' Museum [Lake Rd., Rte. 80; 607/547-1450], with old buildings, like a blacksmith's shop, a tavern, a doctor's office, and a general store (where you can get rock candy)—plus plenty of cows, turkeys, and chickens.
No matter where you are in Cooperstown you're never far from the lake. You can see all the way up it to Mount Wellington, which looks like a sleeping lion. Sometimes I get up really early and go canoeing with my best friend, Julia. It's so mysterious. The fog rises and we feel as if we've gone back hundreds of years. You can rent a canoe or a fishing pontoon—and a fishing pole, too—at Sam Smith's Boatyard [6098 Rte. 80; 607/547-2543]. If you find the echo place in the middle of the lake, you can yell 'hello' and the hills say 'hello' right back. (James Fenimore Cooper wrote about that in his Leatherstocking Tales.) In the winter the whole thing freezes; you can walk out on it and drop a line into a hole and hope a fish passes by. Biking around the lake is a feat—it's about 23 miles; rent wheels at Velosophy [5 Railroad Ave.; 607/547-2453]—but along the way, you'll see Glimmerglass State Park [607/547-8662]; Hyde Hall, a house museum [607/547-5098]; and Glimmerglass Opera [607/547-2255; July-August season]. Outside town there are back roads that are fun to walk or bike. A book called Walking, Running, and Biking in the Otsego Hills [$5 at Fenimore Art Museum and Farmers' Museum shops] has all the routes.
In winter we go sledding at Leatherstocking Golf Course, skating on the lake, tubing at Glimmerglass State Park, and cross-country skiing everywhere. Just before Christmas, there's a Candlelight Evening at the Farmers' Museum, with hot cider, wassail, sleigh rides, St. Nicholas in old-fashioned clothes, and lots of candles. Everyone in town comes.
What else do people do here?The Clark Sports Center [124 Susquehanna Ave.; 607/547-2800] has pools, rock-climbing walls, a bowling alley, and saunas, among other things. I love the ropes course, where you're 30 feet in the air, using ropes and swings to travel over two pools. Warning: It takes a good two hours. Call ahead to make a reservation.
Now for some ways to blow your allowance. There are 30 or so baseball stores in town. It's pretty overwhelming. I'd go for the shop inside the Hall of Fame, which sells every kind of baseball souvenir. At Mickey's Place [74 Main St.; 607/547-5775] you can get just about any baseball card or cap. Cooperstown Bat Co. [118 Main St.; 607/547-2415] sells bats made right here at its factory. F. R. Woods House of Pro Sports [61 Main St.; 607/547-2161] has two big rooms full of memorabilia. Grab one of those stadium horns that make everyone crazy.
When I'm spending my own money I go to Essential Elements Day Spa & Boutique [137 Main St.; 607/547-9432] for beaded bracelets. When I'm spending my parents' money I go straight to the Purple Star Boutique [31 Pioneer St.; 607/547-8479] for hats, gloves, and camisoles.
Now you must be starving. Stop at Danny's Main Street Market [92 Main St.; 607/547-4053] to get wraps or big sandwiches on baguettes. The place for an ice cream cone is the Red Nugget [45 Pioneer St.; 607/547-8442], and I recommend the elephant ears at Schneider's Bakery [157 Main St.; 607/547-9631]. In summer the Blue Mingo Grill [6098 Rte. 80; 607/547-7496], at Sam Smith's Boatyard, is the best lunch spot. You sit on a porch and watch all the boats coming in. Or elbow your way to the counter in the Herder's Cottage [80 Lake Rd.; 607/547-1496] at the Farmers' Museum and order a Zweigle's Texas Red Hots hot dog (really good). For dinner, try the Hoffman Lane Bistro [2 Hoffman Lane; 607/547-7055; dinner for four $90] for unbelievably soothing meat loaf and chocolate mousse cake.
Before you leave, there's one more place you have to check out: Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard [288 Goose St., Fly Creek; 607/547-9692]. Have a chunk of local cheddar, a sticky candy apple, and cider—they press the apples right in front of you. It's so rustic and peaceful here, you might want to hang out awhile.
—Interviewed by Lin Smith Vincent
Where To Stay
The grandest place in Cooperstown is the Otesaga Resort Hotel (60 Lake St.; 800/348-6222 or 607/547-9931; www.otesaga.com; doubles from $185, plus $50 for children seven and up, including breakfast and dinner; open April-November), pronounced "oat-uh-saug-uh." Built in 1909, it was renovated last year. Its Leatherstocking Golf Course is first-rate.
There are several motels along Route 80. Among them: Lake 'N Pines Motel (7102 Rte. 80; 800/615-5253 or 607/547-2790; www.cooperstown.net/lake-n-pines; doubles from $65) and Lake View Motel & Marina (6805 Rte. 80; 888/452-5384 or 607/547-9740; www.lakeviewmotelny.com; doubles from $59). For a full list, see www.cooperstownchamber.org.
Cooperstown Coming To Your Town
Some 500 treasures from the National Baseball Hall of Fame are touring the country through mid-August 2005. "Baseball as America" is at the Florida International Museum, St. Petersburg, December 13 through March 6, and then in Washington, D.C., St. Louis, and Houston (see www.baseballhalloffame.org). Back in Cooperstown, new items on display include NYPD and FDNY caps worn by the Mets and the Yankees when baseball resumed after 9/11, and the bats Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa used to hit their 500th homers.