Otsego Lake, Cooperstown, NY (photo by Eric J. Hurwitz)
Cooperstown may be a world-class tourist destination, but ultimately it is small-town America at its most authentic and beautiful. Seventy miles southwest of Albany, N.Y., and 45 miles southeast of Utica, N.Y., 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 Street. From the elegant homes on Nelson Ave. and Pine Blvd. to the pleasant, 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.
The 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 you 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.
One of the great testaments 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 Chestnut St. onto Main St. and seeing the colorful hanging baskets, wide sidewalks, well-maintained interesting and colorful shops 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. 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 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 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 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 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.
While your significant other shops at Ellsworth and Sill, a short walk to National Pastime is mandatory. National Pastime has a marvelous collection of baseball art work, photographs, cards, prints, clothing and more. For the baseball fan, this small shop with a great layout and detail to the history of the game will give the true baseball fan goosebumps. It's sort of the retail version of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, as the history of baseball merchandise is well displayed.
Across the street is Danny's Market, 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.
Abner Doubleday Field, 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.
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 serving addictive flavored ices, homemade ice cream and gelati -- root beer with vanilla gelati is the recommended choice.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, one of the great treasures in our country, resides proudly on Main Street in a stately large, brick building with a new, inviting outside entrance. 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.
Walking nearly outside the village will bring you to another source of enjoyment, The Farmers' Museum which portrays rural life in early times. An herbal pharmacy, blacksmithing, weaving, printing, stickball 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, "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 Farmer's 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.
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