Cooper’s Otsego County: A Bicentennial Guide of Sites in Otsego County Associated with the Life and Fiction of James Fenimore Cooper, 1789-1851

Hugh C. MacDougall

Cooperstown, NY: New York State Historical Association, 1989

Copyright © 1989 by the New York State Historical Association. All rights reserved.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 88-64177 ISBN: 0-917334-18-3

Editor: Wendell Tripp

Photographer: Milo Stewart [Photos not included here.]

Design: Liliana Zavaleta Design

Printed in the United States of America.

Placed online March 2012 with the authorization of the New York State Historical Association.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

Corrections or information received since the original 1989 publication are occasionally included in [square brackets] — Hugh C. MacDougall



{19} The village of Cooperstown was founded in 1786 by William Cooper (1754-1809), the author’s father and one of the most progressive settlers of land in New York at the end of the eighteenth century. Col. George Croghan (ca. 1718-1782), Indian agent and speculator, had in 1769 acquired a patent from King George III for 109,000 acres in what is now Otsego County. His efforts to establish a settlement at the foot of Lake Otsego did not prosper, and Croghan had to raise money by granting mortgages on the property, including one to Sir William Franklin (governor of New Jersey and son of Benjamin). All settlement plans were necessarily halted when the American Revolution broke out, and Croghan died before peace returned in 1783.

In 1786 William Cooper, of Burlington, New Jersey, acquired much of the Croghan Patent at a foreclosure sale, though related transactions were to keep lawyers busy for years. Cooper first visited the area in 1785, and in the following year laid out the first streets and began selling lots and, more importantly, farms in the surrounding countryside. By 1788 the village was taking form, and William Cooper himself came to live in what was being called “Cooper’s Town” or “Foot of the Lake.”

Among William Cooper’s principles of settlement, outlined in his postumously published A Guide in the Wilderness (1810), was that of selling land to settlers outright, on mortgage credit, rather than leasing it to tenants as did the Patroons of the Hudson Valley. This, he believed, would ensure that farmers had a personal stake in long-term development. He frequently assisted settlers in {20} getting started, particularly in the earliest days before the new settlement could provide its own food. In politics he was a Federalist, and twice served as representative from western New York in the United States Congress.

The first streets of the settlement that would become Cooperstown were laid out in 1786, and by 1788 a map showed the precise layout of the village from the river to Pioneer (then West) Street. In planning Cooperstown, Cooper followed another principle outlined in his Guide, that building lots be comparatively small so that artisans and craftsmen would not try to farm on a part-time basis, and would therefore be free to provide services to the real farmers living outside the village. The village’s network of wide streets and small building lots, long dominated by his own home in what is now the Cooper Grounds, remain as testimony to William Cooper’s vision.

Cooperstown was still a raw settlement of stump-filled streets as James Fenimore Cooper described it in The Pioneers, set in 1793 but including some details from the next ten years or so. Templeton, the fictional name of the village, in Cooper’s words:

consisted of some fifty buildings ... chiefly built of wood, ... which ... by [their] unfinished appearance ... indicated the hasty manner of their construction. ... A few were white in both front and rear, but more bore that expensive colour on their fronts only, while their economical but ambitious owners had covered the remaining sides of the edifices, with a dingy red. One or two were slowly assuming the russet of age; while the uncovered beams that were to be seen through the broken windows of their second stories, showed, that either the taste, or the vanity of their proprietors, had led them to undertake a task, which they were unable to accomplish. The whole were grouped in a manner that aped the streets of a city ... by the directions of one, who {21} looked to the wants of posterity, rather than to the convenience of the present incumbents. Some three or four of the better sort of buildings, in addition to the uniformity of their colour, were fitted with green blinds. ... [Chapter III]

Some forty years later, in the mid-1830’s, Cooperstown had a population of close to 1,000, and was a prosperous place. As described by Cooper in Home as Found, the village, still called Templeton, had prospered:

Of the dwellings of the place, fully twenty were of a quality that denoted ease in the condition of their occupants. ... Of these, some six or eight had small lawns, carriage sweeps, and the other similar appliances of houses that were not deemed unworthy of the honour of bearing names of their own. No less than five little steeples, towers, or belfries, for neither word is exactly suitable to the architectural prodigies we wish to describe, rose above the roofs. ... Several light carriages ... were passing to and fro in the streets; and, here and there, a single-horse vehicle was fastened before the door of a shop, or a lawyer’s office, denoting the presence of some customer, or client, from among the adjacent hills. ... Its inns were of respectable size, well piazzaed, to use a word of our own invention, and quite enough frequented. [Chapter IX].

Cooperstown continued to grow, if at a modest pace, during Cooper’s lifetime. Of the buildings that stood in the central parts of the village when he died in 1851 perhaps a third are still present. Of the 566 structures in the Cooperstown Historical District, some 20 were known to Cooper as a child, and about 100 others were constructed before his death in 1851. The ravages of time and development, and of fire—including the great fire that {22} devastated much of the main street in 1862—have carried away the rest.


At the side of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and extending from Main to Church Street, is the green expanse of the Cooper Grounds, now open to the public as a park: William Cooper built two homes here—the Manor House and Otsego Hall. Neither building has been in existence for more than a century, but the view from the Cooper Grounds towards Lake Otsego is one that, despite many changes over the years, James Fenimore Cooper would still recognize and appreciate.


When William Cooper first laid out Cooperstown in 1786, he reserved for himself much of the land now making up the Cooper Grounds. In 1789 he built what he called the Manor House, near the present gateway leading to Main Street. It was a simple two-story, Federal style, frame building, sheathed in unplaned clapboards, facing Second Street (now Main Street) and looking down towards the lake. In 1790, William Cooper brought to the Manor House his reluctant wife, family, and servants—some fifteen people in all—from their home in Burlington, New Jersey. The next year two small wings and a back building were added.

Though the Manor House was the most imposing building in the tiny settlement, William Cooper was not satisfied with it, and in 1799 completed his new brick home behind it. When Otsego Hall was finished, the old Manor House was moved down Main Street towards the river, so as not to block the view of the lake, and there it and other outbuildings burned in 1812.{ 23}

Young “Jim” Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper lived in the Manor House, of which no interior description survives, until he was ten years old. With him lived his parents, four older brothers, and two older sisters. There have survived only fragmentary descriptions of Cooper as a child, many of them recorded much later by his daughter Susan.* “Jim,” as he was known to his playmates, was a “gray-eyed, light-haired, ruddy boy, nimble as a deer and gay as a bird.” He was remembered by them as “healthy and active, ... a brave, blithe-hearted, impetuous, most generous and upright boy.” Cooper himself once wrote a friend that “I had somewhat the reputation, when a boy, of effecting my objects, by pure dint of teasing.” His oldest sister thought he and his older brothers were “very wild and show plainly that they have been bred in the Woods.”

* Susan Augusta Fenimore Cooper, the author’s oldest daughter, wrote of her father in a fragmentary private family account of his life from about 1813—1828 entitled Small Family Memories, published by James Fenimore Cooper (grandson) in his Correspondence of James Fenimore Cooper, and in introductions to excerpts from his novels in her Pages and Pictures from the Writings of James Fenimore Cooper.

“As a boy,” his daughter Susan wrote, “he had taken great delight in certain old-fashioned heroic romances, a taste inherited, perhaps, from his mother, {24} who was much given to reading works of imagination. When about eleven years old, he pored over several strange old tales of this class, with a playfellow of his own age; and among others was one bearing the title of ‘Don Belianis of Greece,’ now, doubtless, wholly forgotten. These produced a great impression, and he had barely finished them when he gravely informed his comrade that he should write a book himself! He should begin at once. It was to be a great heroic romance, with knights, and squires, and horses, and ladies, and castles, and banners.” To save themselves the trouble of writing, he decided to set his adventure in type directly, on the printing press owned by his friend’s father, and several chapters were apparently printed before “the young author became weary of his task, and threw it aside.”


In 1799, William Cooper and his family moved into their new brick home, located where the statue of James Fenimore Cooper now stands. He named it Otsego Hall. Extensive descriptions of Otsego Hall exist, both in its early days and after James Fenimore Cooper remodelled it in the 1830s.*

* Otsego Hall’s location and interior figure as “The Mansion House” Cooper’s The Pioneers, and, after its remodelling, as “The Wigwam” in his Home as Found, and Cooper insisted that his fictional description of “The Mansion House’s” central hall was a faithful representation of the real room he remembered. Cooper also described the building in detail, as it was during his childhood, in a private family manuscript first published in 1921 by James Fenimore Cooper (grandson) in The Legends and Traditions of a Northern County. Cooper’s grandnephew, George Pomeroy Keese, described Otsego Hall’s later appearance in several ephemeral publications and in Rev. S. T. Livermore’s A Condensed History of Cooperstown, published in 1862. All the available information about Otsego Hall has been carefully compiled by Charles R. Tichy, in his master’s thesis entitled Otsego Hall and its Setting, 1786-1940, available in the New York State Historical Association Library

The approaches to the Hall are accurately described in The Pioneers:

In the midst of this incongruous group of dwellings rose the mansion of the Judge, towering above all its neighbours. It stood in the centre of an enclosure of {25} several acres, which were covered with fruit-trees. Some of the latter had been left by the Indians, and began already to assume the moss and inclination of age. ... In addition to this show of cultivation, were two rows of young Lombardy poplars, a tree but lately introduced into America, formally lining either side of a path-way, which led from a gate, that opened on the principal street, to the front door of the building. [Chapter III]

Unlike the fictional “Mansion House,” with its stone walls and pointed roof, the real Otsego Hall was a two-story brick building on a high stone foundation, some 75 by 50 feet in size. The bricks were painted red, with white lines to mark the mortar. A small stone wing on the left, built only as high as the half-story stone foundations, contained the laundry and led to the “offices” [privies]. The low, red shingled roof was edged with a light wooden railing, and a chimney rose at each corner. In front was a small stone platform, where four wooden pillars were intended to hold up an overhanging front porch. But, as Cooper wrote in The Pioneers:

The ascent to the platform was by five or six stone steps, somewhat hastily laid together, and which the frost had already begun to move from their symmetri{26}cal positions. But the evils of a cold climate, and a superficial construction, did not end here. As the steps lowered, the platform necessarily fell also, and the foundations actually left the superstructure suspended in the air, leaving an open space of a foot between the base of the pillars and the stones on which they had originally been placed. It was lucky for the whole fabric, that ... the roof was able to uphold the pillars. [Chapter V]

The design of Otsego Hall was patterned after the Van Rensselaer Manor House in Albany, completed in 1769 and demolished about 1898. The central hall of the Van Rensselaer house has been preserved, and, with its original black-and-white illustrated wallpaper, is now in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

At Home in Otsego Hall

Let us look in on Otsego Hall on one particular day, March 3, 1800. There were seven living Cooper children; five others had died in infancy. Judge William Cooper (1754-1809) was forty-six, and away in Philadelphia, where he was a member of Congress; his wife, Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper (1752-1817) aged forty-eight, was still adapting with reluctance to life in the wilderness of Cooperstown. They had been married for twenty-five years. The Judge’s oldest son, Richard (1775-1813), was twenty-five and already planning the home he would build at Apple Hill. With her father was Hannah (1777-1800), then twenty-three, the darling of the family, and a second mother to young James. Slight of build, blue-eyed and flaxen haired, she was much admired by the young men of Philadelphia. Isaac (1781-1818), aged nineteen, was preparing to leave for Philadelphia with letters for his father. Sixteen-year-old Ann (1784-1870) and thir{27}teen-year-old Samuel (1787-1819), called “the Doctor,” were at home at Otsego Hall, while William, (1786-1819) aged fourteen, was already attending Princeton College.

James Cooper (1789-1851)—the Fenimore would be added later&mdsh;was eleven years old and composing a letter, his first piece of writing to survive:

Coopers town March 3d 1800

Dear Papa

I take this opportunity to write you as Isaac is a going directly to Philadelphia. We have got 6 lambs one has died and another is most dead. Mr. Macdonnal’d is a going to leave us for Albany. Mama will not let Samuel go with Isaac though he wished to very much. I go to school to Mr. Cory where I write and Cypher. Mr. Macdonol’d has had a new student from New York who encamped in Mr Kents barn and laid 3 days there without being found out and had his feet frozen. We are all well. I hope I shall have the pleasure of receiveing a letter from you soon as this letter reaches you—




James K Cooper

18 century 1800

The “K” reflected James’ admiration for his father’s friend and neighbor Moss Kent, and Mr. Cory must have reminded his pupils that the 19th Century would not begin until 1801.

The Great Hall

Life at Otsego Hall centered on its well-heated great hall, twenty-five feet wide, which ex{28}tended some fifty feet to the rear of the building, where a second door led to a rear stoop with wooden benches. Windows flanked the doors at each end of the hall, with internal shutters and seats that were generally filled with books. Cooper “indulged his recollections freely” in describing it in The Pioneers:

In the centre of the hall stood an enormous stove, the sides of which appeared to be quivering with heat; from which a large, straight pipe, leading through the ceiling above, carried off the smoke. An iron basin, containing water, was placed on this furnace ... in order to preserve a proper humidity in the apartment. The room was carpeted, and furnished with convenient, substantial furniture; some of which was brought from the city, and the remainder having been manufactured by the mechanics of Templeton.

There was a sideboard of mahogany, inlaid with ivory, and bearing enormous handles {29} of glittering brass, and groaning under the piles of silver plate. Near it stood a set of prodigious tables, made of the wild cherry, to imitate the imported wood of the sideboard, but plain, and without ornament of any kind. Opposite to these stood a smaller table, formed from a lighter coloured wood, through the grains of which the wavy lines of the curled-maple of the mountains were beautifully undulating. Near to this, in a corner, stood a heavy, old-fashioned, brass-faced clock, encased in a high box, of the dark hue of the black-walnut from the seashore. An enormous settee, or sofa, covered with light chintz, stretched along the walls for near twenty feet on one side of the hall, and chairs of wood, painted a light yellow, with black lines that were drawn by no very steady hand, were ranged opposite, and in the intervals between the other pieces of furniture.

A Fahrenheit’s thermometer, in a mahogany case, and with a barometer annexed, was hung against the wall, at some little distance from the stove. ... Two small glass chandeliers were suspended at equal distances between the stove and the outer doors, one of which opened at each end of the hall, and gilt lustres were affixed to the frame-work of the numerous side doors that led from the apartment. These frames and casings ... were surmounted with pediments, that bore each a little pedestal in its centre. On these pedestals were small busts in blacked plaster of Paris. ... Homer,... Shakspeare, ... an urn ... intended to represent itself as holding the ashes of Dido, ... Franklin,... Washington. ...

The walls were hung with a dark, lead-coloured English paper, that represented Britannia weeping over the tomb of Wolfe. The hero himself stood at a little distance from the mourning goddess, and at the edge of the paper. Each width {30} contained the figure, with the slight exception of one arm of the general, which ran over on to the next piece,...[but] some difficultes occured, that prevented a nice conjunction, and Britannia had reason to lament, in addition to the loss of her favourite’s life, numberless cruel amputations of his right arm. [Chapter V]

James Fenimore Cooper had a phenomenal visual memory, which gives credibility to his assertion (in the Preface to the 1832 edition of The Pioneers, and reiterated elsewhere) that he described the interior of Otsego Hall exactly as it was, and this is reinforced by the surviving furniture, by a watercolor of the room painted in 1816, and by the hall at Rensselaer Manor William Cooper sought to copy.

The two tole and crystal chandeliers that hung from the ten-foot ceiling were saved and many years later were presented, respectively, to the White House in Washington and to Fort Ticonderoga. [These chandeliers are, in fact, not from Otsego Hall, but from Fynmere, a home built much later by Cooper’s grandson, though the White House still hedges a bit on the subject: “belonged to the family of. ...”] The barometer is still in the possession of the Cooper family. Not mentioned in Cooper’s fictional description were a large upright barrel organ, which Mrs. Cooper liked to play when the rest of the family had retired to bed, a piano (the first in Otsego County), and a black walnut table brought from New Jersey, which the author would later use as a writing table. The table was, according to Cooper’s grand-nephew George Pomeroy Keese, “fondly remembered ... as the conservator of the cake basket, that excellent housekeeper, Mrs. Cooper, having kept the legs so highly polished that no mouse was ever known to ascend them.” Hanging on the wall were the portrait of Judge Cooper painted about 1800 by Gilbert Stuart, and engravings of classical sculpture.

A Tour of the House

{31} Only the great central room of Otsego Hall appears in The Pioneers; the rest of the fictional building came from James Fenimore Cooper’s imagination. But Cooper did describe the rest of Otsego Hall in a private manuscript first published in 1921. Five doorways led from the hall to adjoining rooms; three on the east and two on the west side of the building. In the northeast corner, facing the lake, was the blue bedchamber used by William Cooper and his wife. Here, perhaps, was Mrs. Cooper’s favorite Queen Anne style chair, from which she had refused to move when the family prepared to leave New Jersey in 1790, and in which her husband carried her bodily to the waiting carriage. The center door on the east led to a “straight, steep, and mean” staircase leading up to the second story and down to the basement, and to a short corridor leading to a small library in the southeast corner of the house. In 1802 the library was moved to a new low office wing added on the east, and this room became a bedroom. The third door opened into a large pantry, presided over for decades by the Coopers’ black butler, Joseph Stewart.

On the west side of the building, the northwest corner was intended for the dining room, with a trap door leading to the kitchens in the basement, and was covered with straw-colored wallpaper with a pattern of vines. Because of its view of Lake Otsego, however, the room was turned into a rarely used formal parlor. The back room on the west then became the dining room, covered with what Cooper called “ugly” red wallpaper, and housing the heirloom “Fenimore Table” brought from New Jersey. In fact, the family generally ate in the warmer central hall, and this room later became a bedroom.

Upstairs were six large bedrooms and a staircase leading to the attic. The two largest rooms, on the west side of the house, were reserved for company, the others were for the Cooper children. On the east side, the {32} northeast corner room was shared by Hannah and Ann, while that on the south was shared by young James, William, and probably Samuel. The front center room was used by Richard and Isaac when they were at home, and the rear was a storeroom that could house close friends in a pinch.

Like other prosperous families in the early nineteenth Century, the Coopers had servants. After 1805, when most of the children had moved away, the indoor staff was reduced to four: Joseph Stewart the butler, Sarah the cook, Betty the chambermaid, and a hired black houseman. Their realm was the basement, which had six rooms, each with a large window and a “good strong door”, and at least half of them with wood flooring. Here was the kitchen, from which food must have been carried up the cellar stairs to the pantry. The attic at the top of the house was 30 by 15 feet, with four windows, and may well have housed some of the indoor servants.

Otsego Hall Abandoned

{33} Over the years the Cooper family thinned and scattered. Judge William Cooper died in 1809 a few days after he was struck from behind by a political opponent, while leaving a heated political meeting in Albany. [This family legend, which first appeared in 1897 and was long accepted by scholars, conflated two elements: William Cooper was assaulted in Cooperstown, after a political meeting in 1807; He died quietly in Albany, his family around him, in 1809.—See Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town 1995, pp. 363-371]. Most of the children, including James, grew up and moved to homes of their own. William’s widow, Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper, with her son Samuel and his wife, lived on in Otsego Hall. A watercolor painted in 1816 shows her sitting alone in the great hall—by now repapered in yellow—with only the butler Joseph Stewart standing by the pantry doorway. The back of the room is filled with boxes of plants. Her granddaughter Susan later remembered her:

I have a dim recollection of her sitting near a little table, at the end of the long sofa seen in her picture, with a book on the table. She always wore long sleeves at the elbow, or a little below, with long gloves. She took great delight in flowers, and the south end of the long hall was like a greenhouse in her time. She was a great reader of romances. She was a marvelous housekeeper, and beautifully nice and neat in all her arrangements.

Elizabeth Cooper died in 1817. None of the surviving children wanted the house and it was bought by William H. Averell of Lake Street. For sixteen years Otsego Hall stood empty, gradually deteriorating.

Otsego Hall Restored

In 1834 James Fenimore Cooper, now a famous author returning from seven years residence in Europe, bought back Otsego Hall and began extensive renovations. He had in 1826 adopted his mother’s maiden name as part of his own, and signed himself James Fenimore Cooper. He brought with him his wife, Susan Augusta {34} DeLancey Fenimore Cooper (1792-1852), and his five surviving children: Susan Augusta (1813-1894), Caroline Martha (1815-1892), Anne Charlotte (1817-1885), Maria Frances (1819-1898), and Paul (1824-1895).

An admirer of the new Gothic Revival style, Cooper was determined to introduce it to a skeptical Cooperstown, following his own taste and suggestions from his friend Samuel F. B. Morse, the painter and inventor of the telegraph. The renovations made extensive changes in the outward appearance of the house. By the time Cooper was ready to move in permanently, in 1836, the building stood eight feet taller than before, was painted stone-gray, and its roof was edged with battlements like a medieval castle. These battlements retained the snow, so that the roof continually leaked in winter. The windows were narrower, with pointed Gothic arches, and in place of the stone stoop a small battlemented tower enclosed a stairway to an oaken front door. At the west end of the building rose a small new wing with a circular tower.

The Interior Revisited

Inside the floorplan had changed little, though the ground floor ceilings had been raised from ten to thirteen feet. Cooper described the changes in his novel Home as Found, published in 1838:

The great hall had long before lost its characteristic decoration of the severed arm of Wolf [sic], a Gothic paper that was better adapted to the really respectable architecture of the room being its substitute; and even the urn that was thought to contain the ashes of Queen Dido ... had been broken in a war of extermination that had been carried on against the cobwebs by a particularly notable housekeeper. Old Homer, too, had gone the way of all baked clay; Shakspeare, himself, had dissolved into dust ... and of Washing{35}ton and Franklin ... there remained no vestiges. Instead ... a Shakspeare, and a Milton, and a Caesar, and a Dryden, and a Locke ... were now seated in tranquil dignity on the old medallions that had held their illustrious predecessors. [Chapter XI]

Other changes were recorded by Cooper’s grandnephew, George Pomeroy Keese. The new wallpaper had a pattern of columns. The stove was replaced by a new furnace in the basement, leading to a brass grill in the center of the floor. A large round table was covered with books, magazines, and papers, while the walls were lined with Chinese chairs and a long chintz covered divan. The Cooper bedchamber in the northwest corner had become a sitting room, with gray flowered wallpaper, containing Mrs. Cooper’s table and a piano. The corridor in the center still held the staircase, but now led to a tower attached to the east wall. The stairs, like all the doors and wainscoting, were now in oak, the author’s favorite wood. At the back, the old pantry and library had been combined into a bedroom for the author and his wife Susan. The northwest corner room facing the lake was still the parlor, now papered in gray and gilt, with a white patterned rug, a sofa, two divans, and several tables.

The second story of Otsego Hall was remodelled to house the children. The northeast room facing the lake (called “Siberia” by the family) was shared by Susan and Caroline, while that facing south (“Italy”) belonged to Charlotte and Frances. On the west end of the house, the front room (“Greenland”) was for guests, and the sunnier back room (“Florida”) was used by Paul, the only son. Smaller rooms in the center provided for more guests, and Cooper boasted that he could house six or eight visitors at once.

Cooper’s Study

{36} The southwest room, once the dining room, had been remade into James Fenimore Cooper’s study and library. George Pomeroy Keese remembered it well:

Its deep recessed windows, dark oak wainscoating and the thick shade of the numerous trees in the vicinity, shutting out the glare of the sun’s rays, combined to give it an appearance of quiet and repose so eminently befitting a room of its character; while the sides were well lined with books of a miscellaneous description—which was in a measure owing to an agreement ... by which he received a copy of every book issued by [his publisher]. There were, however, many works of much interest and value, although it is believed that a complete set of his own works was not among the number.

A number of curiosities were to be found in the different parts of the room, the gifts of various friends; among which we may mention a {37} huge pair of antlers attached to the top of one of the bookcases, holding in their embrace a calabash from the south seas; a small black box made of the wood of the Endeavor, the vessel in which Captain Cook made his first voyage. ... A large folding screen occupied one corner of the room, upon which were pasted a collection of engravings representing scenes known to the family during their tour and residence in Europe. ... A similar screen was in the hall.

Light from the south window, filtered through the pines, fell over the author’s shoulder onto the old black walnut table where he spent each morning writing, his half-breed Angora cat often perched on his shoulders.

The Grounds

William Cooper’s original Manor House had stood on a one and one-half acre lot facing the head of Fair Street. The gardens, originally running down to the lake, were moved in 1790 to just east of the Manor House. Though William had found apple trees on the property, perhaps planted by Indians, he added new apple and plum trees and also introduced the Lombardy poplar. After Otsego Hall was built, the grounds were extended back to Church Street, covering some three acres, with a lane (Hall Alley) leading to the barns and smithy on Pioneer {38} Street. A fenced flower garden, including Mrs. Cooper’s favorite Allegheny Vine (Adlumia fungosa), ran from the back of the house up to Church Street; the remainder of the grounds was divided into squares by straight gravel paths, or planted with fruit trees.

When James Fenimore Cooper remodelled Otsego Hall in 1836, the grounds were again increased to almost five acres. Cooper was annoyed by townsfolk who had taken to using them while Otsego Hall was untenanted, and even to play a game with bat and ball, described in Home as Found, which may have been an early version of baseball. He planned to build a high stone wall all around the grounds, with a castellated gatehouse at the Main Street entrance, but because of the cost had to settle for a two-foot stone wall in front and a wooden fence around the rest. A gatehouse was built, however, with oak gates so heavy that they were eventually replaced with pine substitutes. Hemlocks and shrubs were planted everywhere, amid the curving paths that Cooper liked.

James Fenimore Cooper at Home

George Pomeroy Keese also remembered Cooper’s daily routine:

He was habitually industrious, not alone as author, but in all the business of life. He rose early, and a considerable portion of his writing was accomplished before breakfast, which did not usually take place until about nine o’clock.

[From 11 a.m. he often visited his Chalet Farm (see below) on the east coast of the lake, returning three hours later, near his dinner hour.]

The vegetable garden [at Otsego Hall] claimed a considerable share of his attention; {39} and it was his pride and delight to have each vegetable as early in its season as possible. ... As his grounds were extensive, he cultivated everything on a liberal scale, and there is hardly any one among the circle of his acquaintances who can not remember on more than one occasion, having received a bountiful supply. ...

The varied duties of the day being accomplished, the gathering shades of twilight frequently found Cooper promenading the large hall; his hands crossed behind his back, his brow carrying the impression of deep thought, his head also doing duty, as far as possible in the way of gesticulation, by frequent and decisive nods of approval or otherwise of his thoughts, to which he often gave utterance in audible sounds—no doubt to be committed to paper the following morning, as he rarely wrote much in the evening. These perambulations were often continued after tea; although usually in the evening he was to be found in the midst of his family, either reading the papers, or indulging in his favorite game of chess with Mrs. Cooper.

By all accounts, Cooper associated little with the ordinary villagers of Cooperstown, who thought him aloof and even snobbish, though he was active in charities and other public enterprises. But a little girl, Charlotte Prentiss Browning,* remembered him with fondness:

* Charlotte Prentiss Browning (1837-1933) was the daughter of Col. John Prentiss, who came to Cooperstown in 1809 to found the weekly newspaper now known as the Freeman’s Journal. She lived much of her life in the Prentiss House on Main Street, across from the entrance to the Cooper Grounds, and her autobiography, Full Harvest, written at the age of 95, includes her childhood memories of James Fenimore Cooper and his family.

The Cooper I saw with my child’s eye was the neighbor and genial friend, not the man of letters weighed {40} down with cares and disappointments. ...

Physically, he impressed me as a man of enormous stature. He seemed much taller to me than the six feet that he actually stood, with massive shoulders on which was set a pround head with its shock of iron gray hair, and deep-set, gray eyes, always alert beneath overhanging brows. ... Toward little children his attitude was habitually one of friendliness and camaraderie unless a child should arouse his ire by acts of ill breeding or dishonesty, at which time his eyes flashed fires which struck terror to the guilty and his facile tongue spoke words that the culprit was likely to remember long. ...

The most vivid picture that I carry of the man is that of him escorting Mrs. Cooper with a courtly courtesy that always marked his manner, to the buggy from “The Hall,”... the sun shining on his face as he smiled a greeting and waved a friendly hand to a little girl who might be sitting on her front steps watching him across the way. ... Mr. Cooper on such occasions [was] usually ... dressed in a yellowish brown coat, dark trousers and a straw hat, somewhat the worse for wear. A cravat tied in a loose knot or bow flowed across his bosom. Mrs. Cooper always wore the same little hat tied beneath her chin with a lace veil draped over it and a shawl thrown around her shoulders. ...

No young girl being courted by her most ardent suitor could have been handed into her carriage with greater care and courtesy than was Susan Cooper, the companion of her squire for nearly half a century!... Upon one occasion I met the author coming out of his grounds, as I was going in. With unconscious graciousness, he swung wide the gate for me (a little girl of seven or eight), and bowing gravely, stepped aside for me to pass. It gave me a most grown-up feeling. For the rest of the day I went {41} around with my head in the clouds!...

Destruction and Aftermath

After James Fenimore Cooper died in 1851, Otsego Hall was sold for $10,000, and became the Cooper House Hotel with an added two stories and a large, three-story frame annex. After only one year of operation, it burned to the ground in October 1853, in a fire the origin of which was never established. About 1855 some of its bricks, and salvaged doors, staircases, and bookcases, were used by Cooper’s daughters, Susan and Charlotte, in building Byberry Cottage (see below). For many years the ruins remained, and the grounds became a public eyesore. In 1870 the village decided to extend Fair Street north to Church Street, covering the old foundations. There was much pulbic discussion about improving the property, but nothing was done until Alfred Corning Clark purchased it in December 1887.

In 1897 Mrs. Edward Severin Clark (later Mrs. Henry Codman Potter) opened the grounds as a public park; the present iron fence was installed and the roadway modified to circle the site of Otsego Hall. A large boulder was placed on the site of Cooper’s home, surmounted by a copy of John Quincy Adams Ward’s bronze statue of the “Indian {42} Hunter”, which was often mistakenly assumed to be based on one of Cooper’s characters.

The Cooper Statue

At the center of the Cooper Grounds large bronze statue of James Fenimore Cooper by Victor Salvatore gazes down Lake Street towards Lake Otsego. The seated figure was unveiled on the site of Otsego Hall on August 31, 1940, at ceremonies honoring Cooper’s Sesquicentennial, replacing the copy of Ward’s “Indian {43} Hunter,” which is now located in Lakefront Park.


The heart of early Cooperstown was the Four Corners, the intersection of Main and Pioneer Streets (then Second and West Streets). A flagpole has taken the place of the eighteenth century liberty pole where patriotic and political speeches were made. About this intersection were grouped the taverns and courthouse/jail around which so much of the early settlers’ lives revolved. The buildings which Cooper describes in The Pioneers have all gone; the last survivors were destroyed by the great fire of 1862 that devastated much of Main Street.

The Courthouse

On the southeast corner of the intersection, now occupied by Augur’s Book Store, stood Cooperstown’s first courthouse. Built in 1791 when Otsego County was established, it was a 30 by 30 foot structure {44} with the jail below and the courthouse above. The jail, with four rooms, was built of squared logs. The courthouse was a frame structure on the second floor, entered from a platform over Main Street reached by a pair of external staircases. A tavern next door, built in 1792 and owned by the jailer, held the jury rooms. Here, in 1805, New York State Chief Justice James Kent tried the celebrated local murder case of Stephen Arnold, and here in 1793 was held the fictional trial of Natty Bumppo which heralds the climax of The Pioneers. Cooper described it thus:

The edifice was composed of a basement of squared logs, perforated here and there with small grated windows, through which a few wistful faces were gazing at the crowd without. ... The dungeons were to be distinguished, externally, from the debtors’ apartments, only by the size of the apertures, the thickness of the grates, and by the heads of the spikes that were driven into the logs as a protection against the illegal use of edge-tools.

The upper story was of frame-work, regularly covered with boards, and contained one room decently fitted up for the purposes of justice. A bench, raised on a narrow platform to the height of a man above the floor, and protected in front by a light railing, ran along one of its sides. In the centre was a seat, furnished with rude arms, that was always filled by the presiding judge. In front, on a level with the floor of the room, was a large table, covered with green baize, and surrounded by benches; and at either of its ends were rows of seats, rising one over the other, for jury-boxes. Each of these divisions was surrounded by a railing. The remainder of the room was an open square, appropriated to the spectators. [Chapter XXXIII]

In front of the courthouse, on which side of the street is not clear, stood the whipping post and {45} the stocks where Natty Bumppo was punished following his trial in The Pioneers. A real life occupant of the stocks was Dr. Charles Powers, who had put tartar-emetic into the punch served at a Ball at the Red Lion in 1791. Despite his abject apologies (he pleaded drink and instigation by the Devil) Dr. Powers was banished from Cooperstown.

In 1807 a new brick courthouse was built at the western end of the village, and the old log building and adjacent tavern were demolished three years later to make room for new brick shops.

The Red Lion Tavern

(“The Bold Dragoon”)

On the southwestern corner of the Four Corners, now occupied by the Church and Scott Drugstore [now a baseball souvenir store; the drugstore is now south of the village], stood the Red Lion Tavern, built in 1791 by Joseph Griffin. Since Pioneer Street formed the west end of the original village, the Red Lion almost blocked the end of Main Street, leaving only a narrow passage on one side for travellers. The Red Lion was many times expanded and improved, and later took the name of the Eagle Tavern; it survived as a tavern, still half blocking Main Street, until the great fire of 1862. The Red Lion’s original tavern sign was amateurishly painted by Richard R. Smith, William Cooper’s clerk and Otsego County’s first sheriff, and was remembered long after it had disappeared.

In Cooper’s The Pioneers, the Red Lion and its sign became “The Bold Dragoon”:

The house stood at one of the principal corners in the village, and, by its well-trodden doorway, as well as the sign, that was swinging, with a kind of doleful sound, in the blasts that occasionally swept down the lake, was clearly one of the most frequented inns in the place. The building was only of one story, but the dormer windows on the roof, the paint, the window-{45}shutters, and the cheerful fire that shone through the open door, gave it an air of comfort, that was not possessed by many of its neighbours. The sign was suspended from a common ale-house post, and represented the figure of a horseman, armed with sabre and pistols, and surmounted by a bear-skin cap, with the fiery animal that he bestrode “rampant.” All these particulars were easily to be seen, by the aid of the moon, together with a row of somewhat illegible writing, in black paint, [reading] “The Bold Dragoon.” [Chapter X]

On one of the corners, where the two principal streets of Templeton intersected each other, stood, as we have already mentioned, the inn called “The Bold Dragoon.” In the original plan, it was ordained that the village should stretch along the little stream, that rushed down the valley, and the street which led from the lake to the academy, was intended to be its western boundary. ... The [Bold Dragoon] had, at an early day, been erected directly facing the main street, and ostensibly interposed a barrier to its further progress. ... [In consequence] the main street, after running about half its length, was suddenly reduced to precisely that difference in its width; and the “Bold Dragoon” became, next to the Mansion-House, by far the most conspicuous edifice in the place.

The public, or, as it was called, the “bar-room,” of the “Bold Dragoon,” was a spacious apartment, lined on three sides with benches, and on the fourth by fire-places. Of the latter, there were two, of such size as to occupy, with their enormous jambs, the whole of that side ... ,excepting room enough for a door or two, and a little apartment in one corner, which was protected by miniature pali{47}sadoes, and profusely garnished with bottles and glasses. [Chapter XIII]

In front of the Red Lion, Judge William Cooper, who liked to display his physical prowess, once challenged everyone present to a wrestling match, and promised to give 100 acres of land to any man who could beat him. Timothy Morse, an exceptionally strong man, accepted the wager, saying: “Cooper, I believe I can lay you on your back.” The Judge was thrown to the ground, and when he got up ordered his clerk Richard Smith to prepare the papers for Morse’s hundred acres. It was such exploits that led people to describe William Cooper, who served two terms in Congress and was a friend of many of America’s early leaders, as “half silk-stocking and half leather-stocking.”

The Blue Anchor

(“Templetown Coffee-House”)

Diagonally opposite to the Red Lion, on the northeast corner of the Four Corners, stood the Blue Anchor, said by Cooper to have been “in much request for many years among all the genteeler portion of the travelers”, though the original building had disappeared by the 1820s. Cooper described it in The Pioneers:

At the corner diagonally opposite, stood a new building. ... It was a house of wood, ornamented in the prevailing style of architecture, and about the roof and balustrades was one of the three imitators of the Mansion-House. The upper windows were filled with rough boards, secured by nails, to keep out the cold air; for the edifice was far from finished, although glass was to be seen in the lower apartments, and the light of the powerful fires, within, denoted that it was already inhabited. The exterior was painted white, on the front, and on the end which was exposed to {48} the street; but in the rear, and on the side which was intended to join the neighbouring house, it was coarsely smeared with Spanish brown. Before the door stood two lofty posts, connected at the top by a beam, from which was suspended an enormous sign, ornamented around its edges, with certain curious carvings, in pine boards, and on its faces, loaded with masonic emblems. Over these mysterious figures, was written, in large letters, “The Templetown Coffee-House, and Traveller’s Hotel,” and beneath them, “By Habakkuk Foote and Joshua Knapp.” [Chapter XIII]


Main Street, from Pioneer to River Street, escaped the great fire of 1862 and still contains many buildings familiar to Cooper. From the entrance to the Cooper Grounds, Fair Street runs north to Lake Street and Lake Otsego, providing a view of the lake from the site of Otsego Hall. This part of the village, because of the intersection of Fair and Main Streets in front of the entrance to Otsego Hall, was called “The Two Corners”, in contrast to “The Four Corners” one block west.

From Pioneer to Fair Street, most of the buildings on both sides of Main Street date from after Cooper’s death. The only old building on the south side is the Tyler Block at No. 65-67 Main Street, a frame Classic Revival building with its gable to the street, built about 1800 and now housing a restaurant and liquor store [now shops]. Across the way at No. 66-70 is the yellow brick Greek Revival Judge Nelson House, built about 1835 by Judge Samuel Nelson (1792-1873), a friend of Cooper’s and later a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Here, in August 1863, Secretary of State William Seward conferred secretly with Justice Nelson, at the behest of President Lincoln, to ensure that the Supreme Court was prepared to uphold the {49} Civil War military draft law. In part to disguise the reason for his visit, Seward brought with him—on a railway tour of New York State—most of the foreign diplomats stationed in Washington. There is a commemorative plaque over the doorway between the two ground floor stores. At No. 60 is the Nancy Williams House, now the Veterans’ Club, a handsome red brick Federal townhouse built in 1796. In her old age, Nancy Williams would sit at the front window, knitting and watching passers by, and whenever Cooper passed would call to him: “James, why don’t you stop wasting your time writing those silly novels, and try to make something of yourself.”

Fair Street is broader than most of Cooperstown’s streets, and was originally intended as a public market. When Cooperstown’s older streets were re{50}named after the Civil War, it alone retained its original name. On the east side, Fair Street adjoins the grounds of Isaac Cooper’s Edgewater (see below). On the west side are a number of buildings Cooper knew. Greystone at No. 20 Fair Street, is a stone Federal house built in 1831-32 which was later occupied by Erastus Beadle of Dime Novel fame. The frame house at No. 28 dates from 1822. The brick Bassett House at No. 32, built before 1816, later became the home of Dr. Wilson T. Bassett and his daughter, Dr. Mary Imogene Bassett, for whom Cooperstown’s hospital is named.

Richest in older buildings is the block of Main Street from Fair to River Streets. Next to the entrance to the Cooper Grounds, at No. 19 Main Street, is the colonnaded facade of the Greek Revival Otsego County Bank building, built in 1831, where James Fenimore Cooper kept his bank account from 1834 until his death, writing 1,740 checks. The bank closed in 1866, and the building now houses the offices of the Leatherstocking Corporation. Next to it, at No. 13, is Worthington House, a substantial frame Greek Revival building in the Federal Style built in 1802 by Ralph Worthington, who came to Cooperstown to found a hat and fur business. The house, enlarged in 1845, remained in the Worthington family for over a century. At the end of the street, at No. 11, is Pomeroy Place, a stone house built in 1804 by William Cooper for his daughter Ann and her new husband (see below).

On the opposite side of Main Street, at No. 16-18 is an unusual pair of brick Federal townhouses built in 1815. The left side, with a small brick wing, is the Morrell-Averell House, and belonged to Cooperstown’s Averell family from shortly after its construction until 1969. The right-hand Prentiss House was long occupied by Col. John H. Prentiss, brought to the village by William Cooper in 1808 to found the weekly newspaper still published, over 180 years later, as Cooperstown’s Freeman’s Journal. From its steps, little Charlotte Prentiss watched Cooper’s com{51}ings and goings through the Otsego Hall gateway across the street. Next door, at No. 14, is the frame Prentiss Cottage, built about 1800 and used as a summer cottage before it was expanded in 1882. Finally, on the corner at No. 12, opposite Pomeroy Place, is the Tyler or Benjamin Griffin House built in 1790, a frame Federal house that is the oldest surviving home in the village.


The east side of Pioneer Street between Main and Church Streets is one of the most picturesque blocks in Cooperstown, and several of its buildings have Cooper associations. (Most of the west side of the block, including the Eagle Tavern, was destroyed in the great fire of 1862.) The Phinney Block, at No. 43 Pioneer Street next to the corner, was built in 1850 on the site of the printing establishment founded by Elihu Phinney in 1795. The building has been considerably remodelled. It was at Phinney’s Otsego Herald printing plant, about 1800, that the young James Cooper and a schoolmate set into type the first chapters of a juvenile novel that has, unfortunately, not survived.

Two doors up at No. 47-49, occupying a stone building built in 1839, is The Bold Dragoon, [now Cooley’s Tavern] a restaurant-bar perpetuating the name of the tavern in Cooper’s The Pioneers. Next door are the Twin Houses at No. 51-53, built in 1826 of stone salvaged from the ruins of James Fenimore Cooper’s unfinished house at Fenimore Farm, which burned in 1823. The Cooper cornerstone, inscribed “Fenimore–J. Cooper–S.A.DeLancey—1816”, broke in two and half of it was incorported in the back wall of the new building. The simple stone houses are notable for the date and Masonic emblems set in the rough stonework of their front facade.

The Smithy

{52} Halfway up the Pioneer Street hill, at No. 55, is The Smithy, the oldest building in Cooperstown. It was erected as a storehouse by William Cooper in 1786, and appears on the first rough map of the village drawn in 1788, but soon became a blacksmith shop. The original part of the Smithy building, where the blacksmith shop was located, is on the ground floor and built of heavy and roughly laid stone with gigantic timbering in white oak. Additions to the rear, and the two upper stories, date from the early nineteenth century.

Young James Cooper inherited The Smithy from his father, but it was sold in 1824, along with his farm at Fenimore, to pay his debts. Under its new owner The Smithy became the secret meeting place of {53} Cooperstown’s Masons when that order came under popular disfavor after 1826. Later, when Masons could again meet publicly, the third floor was added for a Masonic Lodge, and remained as such until about 1855.

The ground floor was used as a smithy from about 1800 until well into the twentieth century. Much of the original forge has been preserved, including two “stump” anvil supports said to be of trees growing on the site when the Smithy was first erected. The second floor long served as a wagon shop. After the last smith departed, The Smithy became an antique shop, and since 1957 has been an art gallery. For some years it has belonged to a foundation established by the Cooper family. The top floor is used each summer for an exhibit relating to Cooper or to Otsego County, prepared by graduate students in the [State Universtity of New York College at Oneonta] History Museum Studies program of [at] the New York State Historical Association.

The next building up the street, at No. 59, was the village Fire House from its construction in 1824 until 1889. Today it houses a clothing and gift shop [currently vacant].

The Academy

At the northeast corner of Pioneer and Church Streets stood the old Academy, Cooperstown’s first school and general meetinghouse. It was, Cooper later wrote, “one of those tasteless buildings that afflict all new countries, and contained two school rooms below, a passage and the stairs; while the upper story was in a single room.” It took 100 men, one of whom was knocked unconscious by a falling beam, to raise the Academy on Sept. 16, 1795. The building measured 65 1/2 by 32 feet with a turret seventy feet from the ground. As Cooper wrote in The Pioneers:

The Academy was a common country school; and the great room of the building was sometimes used as a court-room, on extraordinary trials; sometimes for {54} conferences of the religious, and the morally disposed, in the evening; at others for a ball in the afternoon...; and on Sundays, invariably, as a place of public worship. [Chapter VIII]

Young James Cooper attended the school run at The Academy by Oliver Cory, and at the age of eight, dressed as an old man with cloak and staff, recited the “Beggar’s Petition” to a presumably captive audience. The Academy burned down in 1809. The site is now occupied by the Universalist Church building erected in 1833, though it has not functioned as a church since 1955.

In The Pioneers, the Rev. Mr. Grant preaches an Episcopal Christmas Eve service at The Academy, though Cooper once said he had based his detailed description of the edifice in the novel more on a school building in nearby Cherry Valley than on The Academy he remembered in Cooperstown.


No building still standing in Cooperstown is more closely linked to James Fenimore Cooper than Christ Episcopal Church, on River Street between Church and Elk Streets. In fiction, it appears briefly as “New St. Paul’s” in The Pioneers and Home as Found. In real life, Cooper was a loyal and tolerant supporter of the church and was responsible for its present Gothic revival features.

Christ Church was consecrated in 1810 on land donated by William Cooper, who retained the Cooper family plot in one corner of the churchyard. Trinity Church in New York City provided most of the funds for its construction. A cut-out model in the vestibule shows the church as it appeared from 1811 to 1840, 54 by 44 feet, with clear, round-headed windows, painted pine columns inside, and a small cupola for steeple. Though the church was only begun in 1807, Cooper describes it in humorous {56} terms in The Pioneers, set in 1793, as the “new, and as yet unfinished, church of St. Paul’s,” whose windows had “the Roman arch”, and whose steeple “bore, in its outlines, a striking resemblance to a vinegar-cruet.” [Chapter X] In Home as Found, the hero and heroine are married in “New St. Paul’s,” but Cooper says of it only that “`Mr. Grant’s old church, [is] as orthodox a house, in its way, as there is in the diocese, as you may see by the windows.’” [Chapter X]

James Cooper became a vestryman of Christ Church in 1814, while he was living at Fenimore Farm, and he resumed the position when he returned to Cooperstown to live permanently after 1834. Thereafter he served five times as delegate to the annual Episcopal Conference in Albany. Only in 1851, the last year of his life, was he confirmed in the church and chosen as a warden.

James Fenimore Cooper’s Gothic Alterations

In 1839 Cooper was asked to plan the renovation of Christ Church. He did not think much of the existing building, which, as he wrote to the Gospel Messenger in 1841, “had a crowded and mean chancel, no vestry room, large barn-like windows, useless columns, and a rude finish of painted pine, that was better suited to a country ball-room, than to a church.”* He was an appropriate person to undertake the task. America was by 1840 in the midst of the Gothic Revival movement in architecture, of which Cooper was an early exponent. He had, only a few years before, added battlements and towers to the remodelled Otsego Hall. For the Episcopal Church the Gothic Revival style represented a return to Christian symbols of the Middle Ages as opposed to the pagan philosophy sug{57}gested by the Greek and Roman architecture of the earlier nineteenth century. Virtually all Episcopal and Anglican Churches of the mid-nineteenth century copied the Gothic style.

* The letter, like the rest of Cooper’s extensive correspondence, is included in the six-volume Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper edited by James F. Beard.

Cooper might have preferred to build an entirely new church, but he realized the importance of the old structure to Cooperstown and its history. But, as he told the Gospel Messenger, he decided instead to remodel it:

{58} A stone addition, of diminished size, in the form of five sides of an octagon, was added to the west end, our pulpit standing in that part of the building. All the columns, pews and windows, together with the pulpit, desk and chancel were taken out. The chancel was put in the addition, and the whole of the body of the old church was thrown into new pews, and aisles. ... In place of the pine, was substituted the ordinary oak of the country. I am inclined to think that Christ Church, Cooperstown, is the only church in America that has a real oaken interior. ... Our church shows no wood in the interior, window sashes excepted, that is not real oak. Pulpit, desks, pews, altar rail, window casements and skreen, are all of oak. {59} The skreen separates the chancel from the vestry room, &c. and represents the front of a gothic cathedral—It is copied, in a great degree from the skreen of Johnstown, which, however, is only of pine.

Much of this work can be seen today. The dark oak pews and brackets are as Cooper designed them, as are the pointed Gothic windows, and the external brick buttresses. Viewed from the outside, the alteration from wide rounded windows to narrower, pointed “Gothic” windows can easily be seen in the brickwork. The present New England style steeple did not replace the cupola until 1853, after Cooper’s death.

The wooden screen commissioned by Cooper in 1840 originally stood behind the altar. It was a copy, in oak, of the pine screen in St. John’s Church, Johnstown, New York, a Gothic Revival church erected in 1836. This screen is a copy of a twelfth-century screen in Newstead Abbey, England. Cooper’s screen was removed from Christ Church and abandoned when an enlarged chancel was added in 1891. His daughter Susan salvaged the remains, and his grandson, also named James Fenimore Cooper (1858-1938), had side aisle screens built from them in 1910, their solid panels cut out to permit a view through the tracery. The left aisle screen is dedicated to James Fenimore Cooper, and is the least altered. The right is dedicated to his son Paul Fenimore Cooper (1824-1895). James, the grandson, also donated a large new rood screen for the center aisle, dedicated to William Cooper.

Two memorial stained glass windows in the south transept, dedicated to James Fenimore Cooper and his wife Susan, were installed in 1864. Another stained glass window on the north side of the church memorializes his daughter, also named Susan Augusta Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894). In the north transept is a brass plate marking the approximate location of James Fenimore Cooper’s family pew, as it existed before the 1891 chancel was added.

Christ Churchyard

{60} Judge William Cooper’s private family plot in Christ Churchyard has been used for burials down to the present day.

James Fenimore Cooper (l789-1851) and his wife, Susan Augusta Fenimore Cooper (1792-1852), are buried side by side in simple tombs, marked only with their names and dates and simple crosses.

Behind are the larger and more impressive tombs of the author’s parents, Judge William Cooper (1754-1809) and his wife Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper (1752-1817). William’s other sons and daughters who lived to adulthood lie nearby with their families: Richard (1775-1813), Hannah (1777-1800), Isaac (1781-1818), Ann Cooper Pomeroy (1784-1870), William (1786-1819), and Samuel (1787-1819).

Next to the grave of Hannah Cooper lies that of Col. Richard Cary, who was not a member of the Cooper family. Hannah had many admirers, among them the elderly Col. Cary, of nearby Springfield. A prominent man who had been an aide to General Washington, he fell on hard times towards the end of his life, and when he died in 1806 at the age of fifty-nine he was confined to the county seat of Cooperstown for debt. His final request, tradition says, was: “Bury me beside Hannah Cooper; she was the best woman I ever knew and my only chance of Paradise is getting in on her skirts.” The Cooper family honored his request. Hannah had died in 1800 in the western part of Otsego County. The monument that marks the spot where she died, and the circumstances of her death, will be discussed below.

In a far corner of the lot is another gravestone which, like that of Col. Cary, does not commemorate a member of the Cooper family. It reads:

Joseph Stewart

died July 1823

{61} Born a slave

For 20 yrs a much

loved & faithful

FREE Servant of

Judge Cooper

Thus “The Governor,” as he was known to the family, lies buried near those he served so long. Perhaps some of his devotion was reflected in that of Agamemnon, Judge Temple’s fictional black servant in The Pioneers, published the same year Joseph Steward died.

Many descendants of William Cooper, including the children of James Fenimore Cooper, lie in the family plot. Four of them played important roles in the life of the village.

Susan Augusta Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894), Cooper’s oldest surviving daughter, was for many years his literary assistant and after his death became his literary executor. She was a gifted writer in her own right, who wrote valuable prefaces to later editions of Cooper as well as memoirs, essays, short stories, and a novel [Elinor Wyllys; or the Young Folk of Longbridge, 1846]. She is best known for Rural Hours (1850), a journal of nature observations and daily activities in 1849. This perceptive and often charming account of the yearly round in mid-l9th century Cooperstown, which may have have influenced Thoreau’s Walden, has been reprinted several times, most recently in 1968 [1998]. In later life, Susan Augusta Fenimore Cooper was a tireless philanthropist, to whom Cooperstown owed its Thanksgiving Hospital (1866-1927) and the Episcopal Orphan House of the Holy Savior (1870-1942). The theme of the Susan Cooper window in Christ Church reflects her lifelong concern with children in distress.

James Fenimore Cooper (1858-1938), a grandson of the author, was an attorney and writer with a keen interest in Cooperstown and its heritage. He edited the novelist’s correspondence in two volumes in 1922, and {62} in 1897 issued the first of several family-sponsored reprints of Judge William Cooper’s A Guide in the Wilderness (1810). His Legends and Traditions of a Northern County (1921) is a valuable source of local history, including important ephemera by and about the novelist, as are a series of newspaper articles on Victorian Cooperstown reprinted in 1936 and 1986. In 1934 he became the first president of the Otsego County Historical Society, and in 1936 of the National Baseball Museum.

Dr. Henry Sage Fenimore Cooper (1895-1984), a great grandson of the novelist, was a surgeon and gifted sculptor who was instrumental in the reestablishment of Cooperstown’s world-famous Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in 1927. He also enthusiastically supported the arts in the village and was a founder and benefactor of the Cooperstown Art Association, whose annual summer exhibit draws entries from all over the state and nation.

Paul Fenimore Cooper (1899-1970), another great grandson, was an author who lived most of his life in and around Cooperstown. His works include a history of Canadian arctic exploration (Island of the Lost, 1961), a volume of Albanian folklore, and several children’s books. During World War II he was a leader in Red Cross and civil defense activities, and he proposed and was one of (63} the principal donors of the village park at Council Rock.

Other descendents of James Fenimore Cooper, still living, carry on this tradition of the arts and of service to the village.


Though none of James Fenimore Cooper’s homes near Cooperstown has survived, four buildings once occupied by close relatives remain.

Pomeroy Place

Pomeroy Place, the stone house on the southwest corner of Main and River Streets, was built by Judge William Cooper in 1804, as a wedding gift to his daughter Ann Cooper (1784-1870) and her husband George Pomeroy (1779-1861). In her old age Ann Pomeroy had to leave Pomeroy Place, but her ghost has reportedly been seen at its doorway and at its windows. The house was built by the Scottish stonemason James Allen (176?-1831), {64} known locally as Scotch Jamie, and displays the unique “herring bone” stonework that was his trademark. On the River Street side of the building Allen mingled the initials of the young couple (G-A-P-C) and the date, 1804. James Fenimore Cooper wrote Jamie Allen into Wyandotté (1843), a novel of the American Revolution in the Butternut Valley of western Otsego County (see below).

James Fenimore Cooper stayed with his sister at Pomeroy Place in the summer of 1834 while he began the remodelling of Otsego Hall.


On the south side of Lake Street, between River and Fair Streets, stands the beautiful brick mansion known as Edgewater, in spacious grounds overlooking the lake. It was built in 1810-12 by Isaac Cooper (1781-1818), an elder brother of the novelist. Its graceful curved staircase and numerous marble fireplaces, as well as its handsome exterior, make it one of the outstanding buildings in Cooperstown. Five years after he moved in, Isaac died from injuries received in a friendly wrestling match with his brother-in-law Richard Morris. His house had to be sold, but it later became the home for many years of George Pomeroy Keese (1828-1910), grandson of Ann Cooper of Pomeroy Place, whose many contributions to Cooperstown history include descriptions and models of Otsego Hall and Christ Church which provide important evidence of their appearance during Cooper’s lifetime. Edgewater is now [a private home, but was for some time] the headquarters of the Delaware and Otsego Railroad.

Byberry Cottage

On River Street, just south of Main Street and overlooking the Susquehanna River, stands Byberry Cottage, built about 1855 by James Fenimore {65} Cooper’s unmarried daughters Susan Augusta Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894) and Anne Charlotte Fenimore Cooper (1817-1885). They had gone to Switzerland for several years after their father’s death, but returned to Cooperstown and built what they called “Riverside Cottage” on land which had belonged to their uncle Richard. Bricks and oak woodwork salvaged from Otsego Hall were used in the construction of the Gothic-revival building. In later years they were joined by their two widowed sisters, Caroline Martha Phinney (1815-1892) and Maria Frances Cooper (1819-1898). The house, now privately owned, was later enlarged and renamed Byberry Cottage after Judge William Cooper’s birthplace in Byberry Township, Pennsylvania; the novelist had also used the name “Biberry” as the {66} county seat of a fictional Duke’s County in his final romance, The Ways of the Hour, published in 1850.

Apple Hill

Richard Fenimore Cooper (1775-1813), the author’s oldest brother, built the frame house he called Apple Hill overlooking the Susquehanna, on the site of what is now Fernleigh on River Street. After his death Apple Hill had several illustrious occupants, including Judge Samuel Nelson, General John A. Dix, later senator, New York governor, and Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury, and Levi C. Turner, later Lincoln’s judge advocate. It was also for a time a military academy attended by James Fenimore Cooper’s son Paul. Apple Hill was dismantled in 1866, to make room for Edward Clark’s Fernleigh mansion, and its frame was incorporated in a handsome new house still standing at No. 198-200 Main Street.