Cooperstown, New York, is all about charm. This serene area on Otsego Lake seems to be small-town America, with Main Street shops and restaurants, and museums devoted to agriculture and art. But the big draw is baseball.
Any true fan of the U.S. national pastime will make a point to stop in Cooperstown on the way from Albany to the Finger Lakes. Home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame—built there because Abner Doubleday supposedly invented the game in a nearby field in 1839—Cooperstown is a great place for anyone who understands the sacred mysteries of the ground-rule double. The multimedia exhibits make for an interesting and educational visit. Each July, the world of baseball holds its grandest ceremony, the induction of new members into the Hall of Fame, which the public can attend free of charge. http://baseballhall.org.
A separate, unaffiliated Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum in Cooperstown is a neat spot for photo ops.
Cooperstown is easy to reach—it's 75 mi/121 km west of Albany, about midway between Albany and Binghamton, north of Interstate 88, and has a number of nice inns and bed-and-breakfasts (reservations are a must). Free parking is available at lots located on the perimeter of the city, and a low-cost trolley runs into town during the summer months to alleviate parking problems.
If the sporting life doesn't thrill you, Cooperstown is also home to the Glimmerglass Opera Company (and its architecturally acclaimed Alice Busch Opera Theater, which, when completed in 1987, was the first theater in the U.S. built especially for opera since the Met's stage debuted in 1966).
The Fenimore Art Museum has a vast collection of folk art, Hudson River School landscape paintings, distinctive period furniture and memorabilia devoted to the life and work of 19th-century novelist James Fenimore Cooper (author of The Last of the Mohicans), whose father founded the town in the late 1700s. The American Indian Wing of the museum houses nearly 850 items of Native American art. The museum also has a view that's perfect for weddings. Nearby Hyde Hall, a house museum and cultural center, is one of the finest examples of a neoclassic country mansion.
The Farmers' Museum re-creates farm and village life of the mid-19th century; working craftspeople demonstrate the early trades in restored buildings. It also houses one of the great hoaxes of the 19th century, the Cardiff Giant. The 10-ft/3-m "fossil" was secretly buried on a farm, and when unearthed was purported to be a petrified giant from biblical times. It was later revealed as a carved statue of gypsum that had been devised and planted by a friend of the farmer as a means of attracting paying sightseers. Nevertheless, the fraud worked—the masterminds reportedly raked in thousands of dollars.
Brewery Ommegang, maker of Belgian-style ales, offers daily tours of its Cooperstown brewing operation. Its Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival, held each summer, sells out months in advance.
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