Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cooperstown Pursuit #1

By: Kate Betz, Manager of Public Programs
Though many people may think of the current Fenimore Art Museum building as the only building that has ever stood on this property, this is actually far from true. One of the first people to live on this property was none other than novelist James Fenimore Cooper.

This lovely cottage became the home of James and his family during their early days in Cooperstown. While living in the small cottage, Cooper was in the process of constructing a new stone manor house. If you’re familiar with the area, it would have been located on the lake side of the Leatherstocking Golf Course across from where the Schoolhouse now stands at The Farmers’ Museum.

Susan Cooper, James’ daughter, remembered the building process in a story meant for her children: “I remember distinctly going with them to the new stone house, then building. In that house they expected to pass their lives. But in fact it was never inhabited. Your grandfather one day chose an even stone, to be placed in the wall, and carved on it his own name and that of your grandmother, with the date—1816.”

Indeed, the family never lived in the house. As it turns out, economic recessions are nothing new in this country, and because of declining Cooper finances and the recent death of James’ mother, the family moved to Westchester County and the house stood empty.

In 1823, the stone house—likely the original structure to be given the name “Fenimore”—was badly damaged by a fire. As it turns out, arsonists are also nothing new in this country either.

In spite of this spate of bad luck, the stone manor’s building materials were not wasted. In 1826, the stones from the manor house were used in the construction of the twin stone buildings that can still be seen today at 51 and 53 Pioneer Street in the village of Cooperstown. An early example of recycling at its finest!

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