East Coast Fall 2021 – Cooperstown, NY, Part One

October 16 -18

Rain followed us all the way to Cooperstown and it being a short drive, we had plenty of time left before we could check into the Best Western Cooperstown Inn and Suites.  With it still raining we sought out an indoor pursuit by driving about ten miles out of town to visit Hyde Hall, perched at the northern end of Otsego Lake in Glimmerglass State Park. 

Ithaca to Cooperstown

A neoclassical country mansion designed by architect Philip Hooker for George Clarke (1768–1835), a wealthy landowner, the house was constructed between 1817 and 1834, and designed with English and American architectural features.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986 for its architecture, and the completeness of its architectural documentary record.  It is one of the few surviving works of Hooker, a leading 19th-century American architect.

Hyde Hall on a Rainy Day

George Clarke, having inherited an extensive fortune and lands in New York, settled in Albany in 1806.  In 1813, Clarke married Ann Low Cary Cooper, a member of one of New York’s most prominent families and the widow of James Fenimore Cooper’s elder brother.  In 1817 he purchased lands on Lake Otsego adjacent to his wife’s estate and contracted with Hooker for a country villa.  The construction project expanded over time, aided in part by Clarke’s further inheritance from his father in 1824.

Record of Purchases

Over its period of construction, the house was built in three phases, the first comprising the family rooms called the Stone House, which is “Palladian in form with a central two story, hip roofed core flanked by one story wings and fronted by a porch”.  Its walls are smooth ashlar limestone with a narrow intervening band for every third course and the interior rooms are intimate, focused on a pair of library-living rooms.”

The second phase, larger than Stone House, contained quarters for servants and services, as well as second-floor bedrooms.  Its details are plain in comparison with Stone House and its exterior is fieldstone.  The third construction project, the Great House, adopted a neo-Classical style unlike the Palladian.  It emphasizes right angles and avoids curved forms for doorways, windows, and moldings.  It represents one of the earliest uses of Doric columns found in New York, using a form slenderer than their ancient models.  As in the second phase of construction, large undecorated ashlar blocks form the walls.  The Great House contains two entertaining rooms, a drawing room, and a dining room.

What struck me the most was how much of the houses original furnishings remained with the building, this due to the family retaining ownership and living in it until 1963 when the mansion and its 600 surrounding acres passed to New York State as the result of an eminent domain proceeding to create Glimmerglass State Park.

Finished with the tour, we drove back to the Best Western and checked in, taking some time to work with the maintenance folks to get a chair and lamp replaced.  This facility is large to accommodate the hordes of visitors who descend on the town to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame and it being the end of the season, I would imagine that the facility would need a lot of maintenance during the off season. 

We decided to stay close to the Best Western for dinner as we weren’t sure about parking in Cooperstown and so decided to stop in at Upstate Bar and Grill, which turned out to be a good choice.  Being a Saturday night, it was crowded when we arrived, so we felt lucky to get a table for two quite quickly.  We started out with a Gin Fizz for Joanna and a glass of house white wine for me and then split the Crabby Patties (two Crab Cake, lemon dill sauce on a bed of kale) as we were still feeling full from our food experience at the Farmer’s market (we’d also consumed a small tart there). 

Up State Bar and Grill

Our waitress was engaging, and we struck up a conversation with the couple seated next to us, who make an annual pilgrimage to Cooperstown, not to visit the Hall of Fame but just because the area appeals to them, as it includes real small-town charm with an excellent array of restaurants.  We settled our tab of $42.59 and drove the short distance back to the Best Western to rest up before tackling the Hall of Fame the next day. 

Crab Cakes

Breakfast the next morning was a change of sorts; of our 59 nights on the road this trip 27 would be spent in hotels or at an Airbnb.  All of the inns would feature a breakfast and we would experience an array of choices and quality.  At this one we would get, for the first time ever at a hotel supplied meal, Corned Beef Hash and instead of the usual make your own waffle they had a machine that would produce a pancake.  What wonders will science next bring us next?

Loaded up with full stomachs, we drove into downtown Cooperstown and parked at an all-day lot a couple of blocks away and then walked to the Hall.  The Hall of Fame was established in 1939 by Stephen Carlton Clark, an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune.  Clark sought to bring tourists to a city hurt by the Great Depression, which reduced the local tourist trade, and Prohibition, which devastated the local hops industry.  

Baseball Hall of Fame

Clark constructed the Hall of Fame’s building, and it was dedicated on June 12, 1939. (His granddaughter, Jane Forbes Clark, is the current chairman of the board of directors).  The erroneous claim that Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown was instrumental in the early marketing of the Hall.

Hank Aaron’s Home Run Balls

Among baseball fans, “Hall of Fame” means not only the museum and facility in Cooperstown, but the pantheon of players, managers, umpires, executives, and pioneers who have been inducted into the Hall.  The first five men elected were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, chosen in 1936; roughly 20 more were selected before the entire group was inducted at the Hall’s 1939 opening.  As of January 2020, 333 people had been elected to the Hall of Fame, including 234 former Major League Baseball players, 35 Negro league baseball players and executives, 23 managers, 10 umpires, and 36 pioneers, executives, and organizers. 

According to the Hall of Fame, approximately 260,000 visitors enter the museum each year, and the running total has surpassed 17 million.  These visitors see only a fraction of its 40,000 artifacts, 3 million library items (such as newspaper clippings and photos) and 140,000 baseball cards.  As with many museums, I started out examining every display which was nice as it was about the early days of the game and importantly, those early icons (Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, etc.).

After a while and a whole lot of input, one’s enthusiasm begins to flag and their pace begins to pick up, as did mine and I worked quickly to finish, spending time at the last exhibits about the Dodgers, my team and then at the first floor dedicated to all of the Hall of Fame members.  Joanna had joined me by this time and together hit the gift shop for a couple of items, left the Hall and walked a couple of blocks to get a bit to eat.  That experience will lead off the next post. 

Links

Best Western Cooperstown Inn and Suites: http://www.bwcooperstown.com/

Hyde Hall:  https://hydehall.org/

Baseball Hall of Fame: https://baseballhall.org/

Upstate Bar and Grill: https://www.upstatebarandgrill.com/

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