Today, on our return from Cape Cod, we visit Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Cooperstown lies at the southern end of Otsego Lake, about 60 miles southwest of Albany. It was founded in 1786 by William Cooper, whose son, author James Fenimore Cooper, who grew up there. Abner Doubleday, who attended high school in Cooperstown, became a Civil War general and later obtained a patent for the design of San Francisco’s cable cars. In 1906, a Denver mining engineer claimed that Doubleday invented baseball in a Cooperstown pasture in 1839, a claim unquestionably accepted by the Mills Commission, established to determine baseball’s origins. Cooperstown resident Stephen Carlton Clark, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, used that claim in promoting the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which he opened in Cooperstown in 1939. Clark, who owned a Cooperstown hotel, hoped to bring visitors to his little town. He also founded the still-open Farmers’ Museum, which opened in 1942 on land once owned by James Fenimore Cooper, recreating rural life in nineteenth century New York.
Each year, about 300,000 people visit Cooperstown, most going to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, housed in a three-story brick building on Cooperstown’s historic Main Street. During Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, up to 80,000 people crowd into tiny Cooperstown, which has a population of about 1600. The Plaque Gallery on the Hall of Fame’s first floor currently honors 268 former major league players, as well as 40 executives/pioneers, 22 managers and 10 umpires. The upper floors feature exhibits chronicling baseball’s history, including one acknowledging that “historians agree that [Abner] Doubleday had nothing to do with baseball’s beginnings.” Cooperstown is a bit out of the way from anywhere, but is worth the trip for anyone interested in our “national pastime.”