Originally published October 12, 2004
When the crack of the bat brings a thrill to your soul, and your longing for the summer memories of your youth melts the winter snows, it is time to plan a pilgrimage to the best place on Earth to fully satisfy your love of the game… the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in Cooperstown, New York.
Nestled just 60 miles west of Albany, in a beautiful central New York valley, in a town founded in 1786 by William Cooper, the father of James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans), the National Baseball Hall of Fame exudes history. The ambiance of the magnificent homes and estates of the Village of Cooperstown, chronicling the finest in American culture and architecture of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, make this RV destination one of the top selections on our list of family RV vacations.
Getting to Cooperstown from your Canadian base is a pleasant drive from the east or west. Our Rand McNally TripMaker software planned a six-hour route from Toronto, covering a total of 712 miles, return. (From Montreal, your choice would be to travel south on Route 87 to Albany, then pick up I-90 west to Route 28). The route, primarily traversing the I-90 New York State Turnpike, then heading south on State Road 28, and Route 20, then south again on Route 80, is a driver’s dream, with excellent road conditions, and relatively light mid-week traffic. The final half hour of the drive takes you along the shoreline of Lake Ostego, a rolling, twisting road typical of the cottage country routes in the Northeast.
The significance of the National Baseball Hall of Fame lies in the enduring nature of the game itself, and the many personalities who have created what can only be described as the mystique of America’s national sport. (For Canadians, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is the U.S. home of baseball, to be visited in addition to a trip to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Mary’s Ontario).
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the game and the excellence of those who have played it. The complex, originally dedicated in 1939, was a centennial celebration of Baseball, constructed at Cooperstown because a three-year special commission on the history of the sport certified, in 1907, that Abner Doubleday first created the rules for the modern game, as played on the field at Cooperstown in 1839.
The modern Hall of Fame encompasses more than 165,000 items in a 60,000 square foot facility. The library, one of the most complete collections of the records and memorabilia of any sport, catalogues and preserves more than two million documents, 500,000 photographs, and 5,000 hours of original radio and television recordings. It is a dignified and impressive repository of what can best be described as a cornerstone of American heritage.
The grounds on which the Baseball Hall of Fame are built were deeded to the New York Historical Association in 1933 by Stephen C. Clark Sr., grandson of Edward Severin Clark, whose vision transformed Cooperstown from an 1860’s summer retreat for the wealthy into a vacation destination for middle-class families. Clark’s flair for marketing emerged when one of his legal clients, Isaac Merrit Singer, invented the sewing machine… Clark gave up his legal career, purchased a 50% share of I.M. Singer & Company, and eventually became its leader.
Four generations of Clarks have guided the village of Cooperstown, and the Clark Foundation today supports the museums, hospitals, and scholarship programs that have been the cornerstones of Cooperstown through the colonial, Victorian and contemporary periods.
From an international perspective, the focal point of the village is the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For those of us who grew up in the era of Mays, Mantle, and Aaron, the hall brings memories of childhood in the 1950’s, 60’s and ’70s. For our parent’s generation, reflections of Ruth, Williams, DiMaggio and Gehrig bring a tear to the eye. The exhibits dedicated to Jackie Robinson and the African American league players bring home the immense contribution Baseball has made to racial equality in America.
Our children can revel in the transitions of the game, from the earliest equipment used in the 1839-1900 period, to the modern gloves, bats and balls that carry the records of more than 160 years of recorded sporting history. The balance of modern and early baseball milestones is exceptionally well achieved at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. All generations can stroll through the three floors of exhibits, recognizing key elements from their own memories of baseball’s history.
There are many lessons to be learned from the stories of the boys of summer. The artifacts of the game, the contracts, the old movies, the cultural impact of the sporting tradition – all form an impressive tribute to a game that has transcended the bounds of sport, and entwined itself in the personae of North American and worldwide fans.
The Museum offers a series of daily programs for all ages, encompassing tours of the exhibits, stories and activities for younger children, and a full range of visitor participation activities including baseball author book signing sessions, rookie workshops for aspiring radio commentators, and the Bullpen Film Series, which brings classic baseball movies to the big screen. Guided tours are available daily to give you the stories behind some of the more interesting artifacts of the game.
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Cooperstown is that the village has maintained its quaint appeal, without the incursion of modern commercialism. The Hall of Fame is reasonably priced, with day passes for adults, seniors, and juniors 7 – 12. Children under 7 are admitted free of charge. Please visit the website for current admission rates. The extensive museum store contains thousands of fascinating items, all reasonably priced to delight every true baseball fan.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame is open daily from May 1 – September 30, 9 am – 9 pm. Winter hours from October 1 – April 30 are 9 am – 5 pm, except Fridays and Saturdays, when the Hall is open until 8 pm. The first weekend in August is the most important time of year, when the annual induction ceremonies and the Hall of Fame game are held. Visiting during this period may prove a bit challenging from a parking point of view, but how can one diminish the opportunity to be on-site as another chapter is written in the history of the game!
Our overall rating for the National Baseball Hall of Fame – it’s the finest attraction of its type in North America, surpassing every other sporting museum by a quantum leap. We would go back again in a heartbeat, and enjoy every minute even more than the first trip.
For additional information call 888-425-5633 or visit www.baseballhalloffame.org
Other Area Attractions
While the National Baseball Hall of Fame is without a doubt the major drawing card in the area, there are several excellent cultural attractions within the Cooperstown area. Of particular interest is the Glimmerglass Opera, a magnificent performing arts venue named for the calm waters of Lake Ostego, as documented in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales; and the Fenimore Art Museum and Farmer’s Museum, which is an interesting reflection of the historic development of the region. Websites of note are www.cooperstown.net/glimmerglass, www.fenimoreartmuseum.org, and www.farmersmuseum.org. For more information on these and other local attractions, contact the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce at 607-547-9931 or visit www.cooperstownchamber.org
Our campground of choice for this baseball pilgrimage is the Cooperstown KOA, a quiet 100 site facility complete with pool, playground, recreation area, and camp store, located just twenty minutes north of town. The campground is in the heart of a rolling meadow, surrounded by farmland – a glorious scenic location away from the hectic pace of the city. Under new management this year, the Cooperstown KOA is spotless – pool and shower facilities are ample for the 100 site property, and the staff is delightful. Sites are no more than a two minute walk from the pool, most of the three-way hook-up sites are pull-through, and relatively level. Choose from wooded, partially wooded, or open areas. There are 27 full hook-up, 51 water and electric, one electric only, and 27 unserviced sites. Cooperstown KOA has six Kamping Kabins, which are ideal for your extended family.
While the campground is five miles from Richfield Springs, the nearest town, it is a pleasure to wake up in a peaceful environment, away from the constant rumble of the highway. For in-season rates (April 15 – October 15) for the Cooperstown KOA, please visit the website or call to make a reservation. Kamping Kabins are available. There is a discount on weekly rates when booked and paid in advance. Ask about special tour group discounts and special off-season arrangements.
For reservations at the Cooperstown KOA call 800-562-3402 or visit www.coopkoa.com.
For RV enthusiasts visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown during the busy season, it should be noted that RV parking in the town itself is limited, but several parking spots are available behind the Chamber of Commerce, beside Doubleday Field, just a five minute walk from the Hall of Fame. Additional free parking is available at special peripheral lots on route 80, just north of town, with tram style shuttle service offered at a very reasonable rate.