The neat, prosperous village of Cooperstown (pop. 1,770), founded in 1786 by the father of Last of the Mohicans novelist James Fenimore Cooper, was transformed into a family tourist mecca thanks to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (25 Main St., 888/425-5633 or 607/547-7200, daily, $23), which opened here in 1939. Recently expanded and upgraded, the Hall of Fame revolves around a beautifully organized time line of dioramas and display cases that walk you through the sport’s greatest—and most embarrassing—moments. You’ll see Babe Ruth’s bat, the pair of cracked black leather shoes worn by the ill-fated and latterly famous 1919 “Black Sox” player Shoeless Joe Jackson, and rows and rows of bronze plaques naming all the greats of the game. Special exhibits highlight the Negro Leagues, women in baseball, and, of course, baseball cards, all amid a voluminous collection of uniforms, periodicals, programs, player records, scrapbooks, and film and audio holdings. The combination admission ticket (around $37) to the Baseball Hall of Fame also gains you entrance to the other Cooperstown museums.
Cooperstown’s many attractions are augmented by the subtler delights of the Fenimore Art Museum (888/547-1450 or 607/547-1400, daily summer, Tues.-Sun. Apr. and Sept.-Dec., $12), which, along with memorabilia of the writer, has engaging displays of Native American artifacts, folk art, and Hudson River School paintings. The Fenimore House is on Lake Street, a mile north of town along the shores of Otsego Lake, which is the source of the Susquehanna River, known locally as “Glimmerglass” for its spectacular sparkling appearance.
Near the Fenimore House, the Farmers’ Museum (888/547-1450 or 607/547-1450, daily summer, Tues.-Sun. spring and fall, special programs only in winter, $12) has illuminating exhibits on 19th-century rural life, with dignified agricultural and local history exhibits occupying most of the sturdy stone structures speckling this 1918 farm. The “remains” of the previously encountered Cardiff Giant lie in stony silence.
Avoid the in-town parking hassles and stash your car in one of the free lots near the Fenimore House. Then catch a city-operated trolley ($2 for an unlimited day pass) to downtown.
In the several-block central business district, every other bookstore, restaurant, and variety store seems to be cashing in on their tourist customers’ insatiable appetite for baseball-related camp and nostalgia. For example, the Doubleday Café (93 Main St., 607/547-5468) has above-average food and a Father-of-the-National-Pastime theme.
There are dozens of hotels and motels from which to choose in the Cooperstown area, and the Hall of Fame offers many package deals; be sure to make your reservations far in advance to beat the summer rush. The Lake Front Motel, Restaurant and Marina (10 Fair St., 607/547-9511, $95-270) has a lakefront beach within walking distance of downtown, while in-town lodging options include the grand Otesaga Resort Hotel (60 Lake St., 607/547-9931, $320 and up).
For more information on Cooperstown, including details on the popular summertime Glimmerglass Opera Festival, contact the visitors bureau (31 Chestnut St., 607/322-4046).