Cooper's Otsego County

James Fenimore Cooper Society Website
This page is:

Cooper's Otsego County

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

by Hugh Cooke 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 — NOTE: Photos in original not included in this on-line version.
Design: Liliana Zavaleta Design
Printed in the United States of America

Return to Books about Cooper and Cooperstown

Return to Home Page

Placed on line March 2012
with the authorization of the New York State Historical Association

NOTE: Corrections, or information received since the original 1989 publication, are occasionally included in [square brackets]—Hugh Cooke MacDougall



{9}This guidebook identifies and describes sites in New York's Otsego County associated with the life of James Fenimore Cooper, and with the four Cooper novels set in the county. It has two major purposes. The first is to enable visitors to Cooperstown and Otsego County to visualize the landscape around them as it appeared to one of America's foremost writers. The second is to encourage a renewed interest in Cooper's work.

One of America's greatest writers, Cooper published thirty-two novels, five books of travel, two books of political commentary, a history of the United States Navy, stories, articles, and reviews, and the first history of Cooperstown itself. His descriptive prose influenced the Hudson River School of American artists. The Leatherstocking Tales, and many of Cooper's other novels, are not just relics to be relegated to college literature courses, or juvenile stories to be assigned to unwilling schoolchildren. As millions of Europeans can attest, James Fenimore Cooper, 200 years after his birth, is still both readable and thought provoking. He opens a window on a youthful America, a pathway back to our roots.

Nowhere is this truer than in Otsego County, where Cooper spent much of his life, both as a child and as a mature writer. He gave Otsego settings to four of his novels, including two of the most famous Leatherstocking Tales, and poured into them vivid recollections of people and of places he had known. His phenomenal visual memory enabled him to bring to life the village of Cooperstown and Otsego Lake, and the hills and forests that still surround them, in ways that we can still appreciate.{9}

{11}Because Cooper is renowned for his descriptions of scenery and of the wilderness, this guidebook makes extensive use of Cooper's own language, as it describes in turn the sites associated with James Fenimore Cooper in Cooperstown, along the two sides of Otsego Lake, and in the nearby Butternut Valley.


James Fenimore Cooper was born in Burlington, New Jersey on September 15, 1789, and died in Cooperstown on September 14, 1851. He was brought to Cooperstown as a baby in 1790, four years after his father William Cooper had founded the little village on the New York frontier. He was educated at schools in Cooperstown and Albany, and entered Yale College in 1803 at the age of thirteen. Expelled from college in 1805, supposedly for a student prank [but in fact after a fight with fellow-student John P. Boyle—see Alan Taylor, William Cooper's Town (1995), p. 340] he spent a year at sea as a merchant sailor, before being commissioned as a midshipman in the United States Navy at the beginning of 1808. His naval career was short, but included a tour at the lake port of Oswego on Lake Ontario.

In 1811, following the death of his father in 1809, Cooper married Susan Augusta DeLancey, daughter of a prominent family in New York's Westchester County, and resigned from the Navy. In 1813 the young couple returned to Cooperstown, where for four years Cooper tried his hand at agriculture at Fenimore Farm, just north of the village. After the death of his mother in 1817, they moved to Scarsdale in Westchester County where, in 1820, Cooper wrote his first novel, Precaution, and launched a writing career that would make him the first internationally acclaimed American novelist and the first American to support himself by writing. Cooper's second book, The Spy (1821), based on tales of the American Revolution around New York City, rapidly became a best seller. In the next three years, Cooper wrote three popular {12} novels: The Pioneers (1823), set in the frontier Cooperstown of his childhood; The Pilot (1824), a naval adventure about John Paul Jones; and The Last of the Mohicans (1826), a romance of the French and Indian wars in a New York setting. These works established Cooper's reputation as a novelist who found inspiration in American history, who pioneered a new vision of the American frontier and of the American Indian, and who almost single-handedly created the novel of the sea and maritime adventure.

In 1826, their family grown to four daughters and a son, the Coopers went to Europe, where they lived for seven years in France and Italy, and travelled in England, Switzerland, and Germany. When they returned to America in 1833, Cooper was known throughout the western world. After two years in New York City, he settled in Cooperstown, where he bought back his late father's Otsego Hall, and spent the rest of his life writing novels which combined adventure and romance with a critical analysis of the society in which he lived. He died in Cooperstown in 1851.

To his writings Cooper brought his experience as a seaman and naval officer, his fascination with the American Indian, and the memories and traditions of his childhood in the forests of central New York. His years in Europe gave him an historical and cultural perspective shared by few other Americans of his time. Not just a spinner of tales, Cooper was a perceptive and often controversial observer of the changing American society of the Jacksonian era. He lived a turbulent public life punctuated by legal battles with the Whig press of the period.

James Fenimore Cooper is best remembered for creating the epic figure of Natty Bumppo, the Leatherstocking. A central character in five of Cooper's best loved novels, Natty Bumppo so effectively typified one peculiarly American character type so successfully that he has been the model for heroes of American popular fiction ever since, {13} down to the latest Western novel. A hunter and trapper living on the fringes of civilized society, the ungainly but philosophical Natty Bumppo displays a reverence for the wilderness, a skill as scout and marksman, a restlessness and enthusiasm for adventure, a cool courage in the face of death, and a profound belief in fair play for men and chivalry towards women, that for over a century and a half have made him "the American" for readers all over the world. These five novels, The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Prairie, The Pathfinder, and The Deerslayer, portray Natty Bumppo from his first youthful adventures on the waters of Lake Otsego to his death as an old man on the prairies of the American west. "The Leatherstocking Tales," as they are generally called, have been translated into virtually every major world language, and have never been out of print in America. Though their fame has overshadowed Cooper's other major works, the survival of the Leatherstocking Tales is testimony to the enduring genius of their author.


Although James Fenimore Cooper lived in Europe, in New York City, and in Westchester County, as well as in Cooperstown, he especially loved the central region of New York State. In 1823, at the beginning of The Pioneers, he wrote:

Near the centre of the State of New-York lies an extensive district of country, whose surface is a succession of...mountains and valleys. It is among these hills that the Delaware takes its rise; and flowing from the limpid lakes and thousand springs of this region, the numerous sources of the Susquehanna meander through the valleys, until, uniting their streams, they form one of the proudest rivers of the United States. The mountains are generally arable to {14} the tops, although instances are not wanting, where the sides are jutted with rocks, that aid greatly in giving to the country that romantic and picturesque character which it so eminently possesses. The vales are narrow, rich, and cultivated; with a stream uniformly winding through each.

Beautiful and thriving villages are found interspersed along the margins of the small lakes, or situated at the points of the streams which are favourable to manufacturing; and neat and comfortable farms, with every indication of wealth about them, are scattered profusely through the vales, and even to the mountain tops. Roads diverge in every direction, from the even and graceful bottoms of the valleys, to the most rugged and intricate passes of the hills. Academies, and minor edifices of learning, meet the eye of the stranger, at every few miles, as he winds his way through this uneven territory; and places for the worship of God, abound with that...variety of exterior and canonical government which flows from unfettered liberty of conscience. [Chapter I]

Over 150 years later "Cooper Country" still retains both its natural beauty, and its human landscape of farm and village. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit it every year.

Four of Cooper's novels, including two of the Leatherstocking Tales, are set in Otsego County. The Pioneers (l823) takes place in the newly settled "Templeton" (Cooperstown) of 1793, and is an affectionate and warm account of the village, and its lake and surrounding hills as Cooper remembered them from his childhood. It introduced to the world Natty Bumppo, a frontiersman past his physical prime and out of place in the new community, and Chingachgook, a broken and dying Indian who has been Natty's lifelong friend. In Home as Found (1838) the {15} descendants of the pioneers return to Templeton to confront the social and cultural leveling of the Jacksonian era. It has been well described as America's first novel of manners, and deserves to be better known. The Deerslayer (1841) harks back to a wilderness Lake Otsego in 1745, long before its settlement, where the young Natty Bumppo faces manhood, love, and death in an adult fairy tale of adventure and morality set on and around "The Glimmerglass." In Wyandotté (1843), the last of the Otsego novels, Cooper spins a tale of honor, betrayal, and conflicting loyalties in the Butternut Valley of western Otsego County during the American revolution. In addition, Cooper provided a factual account of the settlement and development of his home village in The Chronicles of Cooperstown (1838).*

* The text of quotations from The Pioneers, The Deerslayer, and Wyandotté are from the definitive Cooper Edition published since 1980 by the State University Press of New York in Albany; those from Home as Found, not yet included in that series, are from the first edition of 1838. Because of the many different editions of Cooper available to readers, citations are given only to chapters rather than to specific pages, with the chapters of Home as Found numbered consecutively a in most available editions of that work.

In the novels set among the hills of Otsego County and on and around Lake Otsego itself, Cooper drew on his intimate knowledge of the area. The extent to which he portrayed real characters, including his own family, has long been a subject of discussion. Fictional buildings are copied, at least in part, from buildings and sites in Cooperstown; in particular Cooper used in exact detail the interior of Otsego Hall, the house where he grew up and where he returned to live in 1836. The real hills around Otsego Lake, and the points and bays along its shores, are lovingly described. In Wyandotté, his last Otsego County novel, he turned to the gentler terrain of the Butternut Valley to the west.

This Guidebook to places associated with Cooper in Otsego County draws as much upon his fiction as upon the known facts of his life. In describing the view of the lake and village from the summit of Mount Vi{16}sion, a view he deeply loved and often wrote about, Cooper once complained that Lake Otsego only lacked "ruined castles and recollections" to equal the romantic scenery of the Rhine. The Kingfisher Tower, a sixty-foot "medieval" tower erected in 1876 just off Point Judith, has since provided the first. James Fenimore Cooper himself, and the creative genius of his writings, provide the recollections, and it is the purpose of this Guidebook to share them with those who remember Cooper's stories from their youth, or who may be tempted to discover them in the future.



{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, [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 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 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, 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 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 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.



{69} Cooperstown lies at the southern end of Lake Otsego, which was gouged out by glaciers during the last great Ice Age. Like many glacial lakes, Lake Otsego is deep and steep-banked, so that its waters reflect the changing sky and clouds, the surrounding hills, and the overhanging trees that still line much of its shoreline. Fed by streams from the north, and by many springs, it is the source of the Susquehanna River, which flows south to reach the Atlantic Ocean at the head of Chesapeake Bay.


{70} Lake Otsego was an important part of James Fenimore Cooper's life. As a child he sailed its waters and explored its banks until he knew every inch of its shores and every nuance of its constantly changing appearance. In 1798 Judge Cooper had approved his wife's proposal to return with her children to live in New Jersey, but, as the novelist wrote a friend in 1844, "so great was the grief of my brother and myself at the idea of giving up our lake and haunts...that she abandoned her own wishes to ours...."

From Otsego Hall, as a child and an adult, Cooper could look up the lake to Mount Wellington ("The Sleeping Lion") at its northern end. The panoramic view of the lake and village, seen from the summit of Mount Vision on the eastern shore, held for him an almost mystical importance. As a young man he spent four years at Fenimore Farm, on the western shore of the the lake, and after he returned from Europe to live at Otsego Hall in 1836 he spent many hours at Chalet Farm, overlooking it from the east.

In The Chronicles of Cooperstown, Cooper described the lake in words which still seem apt today:

Lake Otsego is a sheet of limpid water, extending...about nine miles, and varying in width from about three-quarters of a mile to a mile and a half. It has many bays and points, and as the first are graceful and sweeping, and the last low and wooded, they contribute largely to its beauty. The water is cool and deep, and the fish are consequently firm and sweet. The two ends of the lake...deepen their water gradually, but there are places, on its eastern side in particular, where a large ship might float with her yards in the forest. [At] the greatest ascertained depth...bottom has been got with a line of one hundred and {71} fifty feet....

The shores of the Otsego are generally high, though greatly varied. On the eastern side, extends a range of steep mountains, that varies in height from four to six hundred feet, and which is principally in forest.... The road along this side of the lake is particularly pleasant.... The western shore of the lake is also high, though more cultivated. As the whole country possesses much wood, the farms, viewed across the water, on this side of the lake, resemble English park scenery. [Chapter VII]

One evening while driving home along the east side of Lake Otsego, his daughter Susan later related, Cooper paused to admire the lake through an opening in the trees:

His spirited grey eye rested a moment on the water, with that expression of abstracted, poetical thought, ever familiar to those who lived with him; then, turning to [me] he exclaimed: "I must write one more book, dearie, about our little lake!" Again his eye rested on the water and the banks, with the far-seeing look of one evoking imaginary figures to fill the beautiful scene. A moment of silence followed—...a few minutes passed—again he cracked his whip...and drove homeward. A few days later the first pages of the Deerslayer were written.


Lake Otsego, which Cooper called "The Glimmerglass," figures prominently in three of Cooper's novels: The Pioneers, Home as Found, and The Deerslayer. The last, which many consider Cooper's finest novel, is as much about the Lake itself as about its human characters.

Over the years, Lake Otsego grew in {72} symbolic importance to Cooper, in proportion to his increasing disillusionment with the society in which he lived. In The Pioneers, written in 1823, the lake seems only part of the background scenery; even episodes set on the lake pay little attention to the water as such. In Home as Found, published fifteen years later after Cooper had returned to Cooperstown from Europe, the lake is described with affection and nostalgia, and often serves as a serene counterpoint to the crass Jacksonian society described on land.

Finally, in The Deerslayer, the last of the Leatherstocking Tales, published in 1841, Lake Otsego moves to center stage; its changing moods and symbolic importance as a "Glimmerglass" reflecting the moral character of the human protagonists, make it the focal point of an adventure taking place entirely on its surface and immediate shores. By setting his story in 1745, before the establishment of any permanent white settlement, Cooper has dispensed entirely with the brawling inhabitants of "Templeton."

In his original Preface to The Deerslayer, Cooper specified that:

The as true to nature, as an intimate {73} knowledge of the present appearance of the region...enabled the writer to render it. The lake, mountains, valley and forests, are all believed to be sufficiently exact, while the river, rock and shoal are faithful transcripts from nature. Even the points exist, a little altered by civilization, but so nearly answering to the descriptions, as to be easily recognized by all who are familiar with the scenery of the particular region in question.



{75} A number of places along the western shore of Lake Otsego are settings for dramatic events in Cooper's novels, The Deerslayer and The Pioneers. One of them, Three Mile Point, was also the site of an important controversy in Cooper's life, which he incorporated into his novel Home as Found. From 1813 to 1817, Cooper lived at Fenimore Farm, where the New York Historical Association is now located.

A state highway, Route 80, now runs north from Cooperstown along this shore to U.S. Route 20. The highway, which dates from the middle of the last century, hugs the shore and is often squeezed between the hillside and lakeside cottages. Several of the sites important to Cooper's life and fiction, including Fenimore Farm, Three Mile Point, and Mohican Canyon, are accessible by car from Route 80. Other lakeside sites mentioned by Cooper are now on private property. The commercial boat tours that run from the lakefront in Cooperstown during the summer provide good views of the lake shore and are a convenient way to see places not easily accessible from the land.

Near the northern end of the lake, on Route 80, New York State has placed an historical marker identifying "Sunken Island," the underwater shoal or ridge that supports "Muskrat Castle" in The Deerslayer, though in the novel Cooper has moved the shoal a mile or so south of its real location.

This discussion of sites along {76} the western shore of the lake associated with the life and fiction of James Fenimore Cooper starts at the Village of Cooperstown and proceeds north.


Hannah's Hill rises 500 feet above the lake at the western edge of Cooperstown, skirted to the south by New York State Route 28/80 to Fly Creek, and to the north by the western extension of Lake Street. The western end of Main Street, long known locally as Irish Hill, winds up its slope. Hannah's Hill was named for Hannah Cooper, James Fenimore Cooper's beloved older sister. Though the text of The Pioneers is not explicit, some have identified as Hannah's Hill the "hill, that was said to overhang the village, in a manner peculiar to itself," where Billy Kirby has his sugar-bush in that novel. [Chapters XX, XXI]


Just within the village of Cooperstown, on the grounds of the Cooperstown Country Club, a low promontory runs due south enclosing Blackbird Bay. The head of the shallow bay was filled in in 1912 to make land for tennis courts. The remains of the point are lined with a row of half-drowned trees.

In The Pioneers, the point which forms Blackbird Bay is the fictional site of an annual bass fishing expedition, where the villagers assemble with great nets to bring in "a haul of one thousand Otsego bass, without counting pike, pickerel, perch, bull-pouts, salmon-trouts, and suckers," and where Natty Bumppo rescues the nautical Ben Pump from drowning. [Chapters XXIII, XXIV]

Blackbird Bay figures more prominently in The Deerslayer, where as "Muskrat Cove" it is the site of the first encampment of the hostile Huron Indians, {77} where Tom Hutter and Hurry Harry are captured early in the novel. Cooper describes it as:

a shallow bay, formed by a long low point, that had gotten the name of "'Rat's Cove" from the circumstance of its being a favorite haunt of the muskrat....

This point, instead of thrusting itself forward like all the others, ran in a line with the main shore of the lake, which here swept within it, in a deep and retired bay....

The placid water swept round in a graceful curve, the rushes bent gently towards its surface, and the trees over-hung it as usual, but all lay in the soothing and sublime solitude of a wilderness. The scene was such as a poet, or an artist would have delighted in.... [Chapter III]

Some maps published around 1900 locate "Muskrat Cove" at Glimmerglen Cove, almost a mile north of Blackbird Bay. This contradicts Cooper's description, since only at Blackbird Bay is there a point facing south, and does not accord with his his reiterated statement in The Deerslayer that Muskrat Cove is less than a mile from the foot of the lake. [Chapters III, VI]


From July 1813 to the autumn of 1817, James Fenimore Cooper lived at Fenimore Farm, north of Blackbird Bay and just outside the village limits, on the present site of the New York State Historical Association. Overcoming his young bride's objections to leaving her native Westchester County, where he had lived since his marriage in 1811, the twenty-four-year-old Cooper bought a frame farmhouse where the Association's Fenimore House [Fenimore Art Museum] now stands. There he began life as a gentleman farmer convenient to Otsego Hall, where his widowed mother still lived. To the south of the farmhouse, on a knoll in what is {78} now the Cooperstown Country Club golf course, he started work on a large new stone house. Cooper became an active member of the Cooperstown community. He was elected to the Vestry of Christ Episcopal Church in 1814, where he served on a committee to clear and fence the churchyard, and was active in the Otsego Bible Society. In 1817 he became a founding member and the first corresponding secretary of the Otsego County Agricultural Society, which sponsored in that year the first county fair held in New York State.

His daughter Susan remembered:

I used very often to trot along between my Father and Mother about the grounds; and 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. The position of that house was charming, on a rising knoll, commanding a lovely view of the Lake and village. The grounds reached to the brook, southward, and the principal entrance was to have been at the point where the road crosses the brook.... The garden at Fenimore was then placed in the meadow just beyond the road leading to the barn at the farm-house.... The farm-house was painted red.

Despite Cooper's devotion to agricultural improvement, he was never a very successful farmer. By 1816, his father's estate was depleted by legal claims against it, and by the time his mother died in 1817 Cooper was in financial difficulties. He left Cooperstown and returned to Westchester County, to a farm in Scarsdale given him by his father-in-law. The stone house he had begun on Fenimore Farm was never completely finished or occupied. It burned down in 1823, in a fire that Cooper believed was deliberately set. Three years later, its stones were used to {79} construct the twin houses that still stand at 51-53 Pioneer Street in the village. Fenimore Farm itself was sold to pay debts in 1824. In 1829 Judge Samuel Nelson purchased the old farmhouse of Fenimore Farm and enlarged it; an outbuilding he used as a law office is now the lawyer's office in the Village Crossroads of the Farmer's Museum.

Fenimore House

In 1932 Edward Severin Clark, who had acquired Fenimore Farm in the 1890s, demolished Cooper's old frame farmhouse to make room for a stone mansion he called Fenimore House. The ballroom of Fenimore House was built over the farmhouse foundations. In 1945, Fenimore House became the headquarters of the New York State Historical Association, a private non- profit society that administers Fenimore House and The Farmers' Museum across the road. As a museum, Fenimore House [today the Fenimore Art Museum] retains the atmosphere of a gracious mansion, and its lawn, running down to the shore, preserves Cooper's magnificent {80} view of Lake Otsego.

Today, Fenimore House is best known for its world famous collection of American folk art, but it also has important holdings of nineteenth century paintings and furniture, [and Native American Art]. The Cooper Room, overlooking the lake, contains portraits of the Cooper family, nineteenth century paintings based on scenes from his novels, and personal memorabilia.

Adjacent to Fenimore House is the Association's Library, with over 70,000 volumes on New York State history and culture. In addition to maintaining exhibits and research facilities, which are open to the public, the Association publishes the scholarly quarterly, New York History, and the popular history magazine, Heritage. Its educational activities, through the "Yorker Program," reach schoolchildren all over the state.

The Farmers' Museum

Across the road from Fenimore House is The Farmers' Museum, housed in a gigantic stone barn built by Edward S. Clark in 1918 on some of the land that formed Cooper's Fenimore Farm. In the barn, and in the {81} assemblage of early buildings gathered from around New York State to form the "Village Crossroads," the museum preserves and demonstrates the artifacts and crafts of rural nineteenth century New York State. The site of Fenimore Farm has thus become a major focal point for the study of the people and environment in which James Fenimore Cooper lived and worked.

Mount Ovis

The hill behind The Farmers' Museum, once part of Cooper's Fenimore Farm, rises some 600 feet above lake level. Cooper named it "Mount Ovis." Here he kept some of the first Merino sheep known in the Cooperstown area, part of a boom in sheep which helped make Otsego County for a short time one of the wool-producing centers of America.


Two miles north of the village is Brookwood Point, beyond which the highway approaches the very edge of the lake shore. The Brookwood Point area figures in The Deerslayer, when Hetty Hutter lands at night on Three Mile Point and makes her way south along the coast to seek out the Huron encampment at Blackbird Bay and plead for the life of her captured father. After spending the night in the woods:

She...proceeded on her course, along the margin of the lake, of which she now caught glimpses again through the trees.... In this manner...the girl proceeded nearly a mile, thrice the distance she had been able to achieve in the darkness, during the same period of time. She then reached a brook that had dug a channel for itself into the earth, and went brawling into the lake, between steep and high banks, covered with trees.... Her course now lay {82} along a broad and nearly level terrace, which stretched from the top of the bank that bounded the water, to a low acclivity that rose to a second and irregular platform above. This was at a part of the valley where the mountain ran obliquely, forming the commencement of a plain that spread between the hills, southward of the sheet of water. [Chapter X]

This description fits the terrain around Brookwood Point, where begins the valley floor that extends south along the shore of the lake and then down the Susquehanna River. Here Hetty encounters Hist, the captured maiden beloved of Natty Bumppo's Indian friend Chingachgook, and with her continues south to the Huron encampment at Muskrat Cove, or what is now Blackbird Bay.


A mile further north is Three Mile Point, which has more associations with Cooper than any other spot on Lake Otsego. Today, it is a public village park, where for a small fee visitors can swim and picnic.

Originally known in Cooperstown as Myrtle Grove, or Wild Rose Point, Three Mile Point was retained by Judge William Cooper, Cooperstown's founder, as a family recreation spot. In early days, it was covered with oak trees and known for its profusion of wild roses. The Coopers and their friends visited the point regularly. In 1837 James Fenimore Cooper wrote the local paper that he particularly loved the point because of its family memories:

I have myself seen children of my family sporting in the shades of Myrtle Grove, as I saw their parents sporting as children, before them. We meet here, as on common ground, and the recollections associated with the spot, the records on its trees, the scenes of {83} my boyhood, produce on me, who stand, as it were, between the present and the past, sensations that no man of sentiment will require language to explain.

The Three Mile Point

When James Fenimore Cooper returned from Europe to live in Cooperstown in 1836, he found that Three Mile Point was being used as public property, and that there had been extensive vandalism. The public, Cooper wrote in 1842 to the magazine Brother Jonathan, "cut down a tree that had a peculiar association connected with my father, and which I would not have permitted to be cut down for any ordinary reason." In fact, Judge Cooper had left Three Mile Point to all his descendants in common, to pass in 1850 to the youngest family member then bearing the name of William. As his father's executor, and angered by the destruction, Cooper in July 1837 placed a curt announcement in the Freeman's Journal that "the public is warned against trespassing on the three mile point...[and] has not, nor has ever had, any right to the same, beyond what has been conceded by the liberality of the owners."

Few villagers remembered that the Cooper family still owned Three Mile Point, and many were outraged. A public meeting denounced James Fenimore Cooper for closing the point, asserting that Judge Cooper had left it to the community, and resolved that his son's works should be removed from the village library. The Whig-dominated New York press used the story to denounce Cooper, a life-long Democrat, as an aristocratic snob; his successful libel suits against these papers contributed to the development of New York libel law. Cooper helped keep the controversy alive by including it, in considerable detail, in his novel Home as Found (1838), which describes with biting satire the social climates of New York {84} City and Cooperstown as Cooper saw them in the midst of the Jacksonian era.

There was no real question of Cooper's rights, however, and Three Mile Point remained in his custody until it passed to William Storrs Cooper (1845-1914), who in 1871 leased it to the Cooperstown Village Improvement Society. In 1899 a public appeal raised money to acquire Three Mile Point for the village, and it has since been a public park. The northern edge of the point was bought in 1904 by Adolphus Busch, the St. Louis brewer, and is occupied by a Busch family boathouse. In 1928 a proposal by the Busch family to acquire the rest of the point, in exchange for property further up the lake, was rejected by the village trustees. The desire of the villagers in the 1830s, to have Three Mile Point as a recreation spot open to all, was thus eventually achieved.

Three Mile Point in Fiction

In The Deerslayer, Three Mile Point figures as the place where Hetty Hutter lands to seek the Huron encampment at Muskrat Cove and beg for her father's release, and later as the site of the second Huron camp where Chingachgook rescues Hist, and Natty Bumppo, the Deerslayer, is captured. As Cooper describes it:

The whole projection into the lake contained about two acres of land, and the part that formed the point, and on which the camp was placed, did not compose a surface of more than half that size. It was principally covered with oaks.... Beneath, except the fringe of thick bushes along the shore, there was very little underbrush.... The surface of the land was tolerably even, but it had a small rise near its centre, which divided it into a northern and southern half.... A brook also came brawling down the sides of the adjacent hills, and found its way into the lake on the {85} southern side of the point. It had cut for itself a deep passage through some of the higher portions of the ground, and, in later days, when this spot has become subjected to the uses of civilization, by its windings and shaded banks, it has become no mean accessory in contributing to the beauty of the place.... There was a delicious spring on the northern side of the point.... [Chapter XVI]

In Home as Found, Three Mile Point is called "Fishing Point." The Effingham family, returning from Europe to live in the fictional "Templeton," engage in the same controversy over the point that Cooper had endured in real life. As the family discuss the matter:

"That point has been ours ever since civilized man has dwelt among these hills; who will presume to rob us of it?"

"...The public&m=dash;the all-powerful, omnipotent, overruling, law-making, law-breaking public—has a passing caprice to possess itself of your beloved point...." [Chapter XIV]

A protest meeting, ignoring the clear rights of the Effinghams, calls them "odious", and it is said that "some have even spoken of Lynching." There follows a controversy in the press, from which the Effinghams emerge victorious, if still slandered. [Chapters XIV, XV, XVI]

Later on, the protagonists of Home as Found meet at "Fishing Point" to fish, walk, and picnic. [Chapters XIX, XX]


The next promontory to the north on the western shore of Lake Otsego is Five Mile Point, which has often been identified with the fictional site of the third {86} Huron encampment in The Deerslayer. It does not, however, match Cooper's detailed description, which better fits Six Mile Point a little further on.

Mohican Canyon

The brook which reaches the lake at Five Mile Point flows east down a deep ravine known as Mohican Canyon, at the head of which is the crossroads called Pierstown. County Route 28 parallels the brook up this ravine. Mohican Canyon figures incidentally in The Deerslayer, as the "deep glen" in which the hostile Indians gather after overrunning Deerslayer, as he hides on the crest above while seeking to escape them. Most of this scene, however, takes place on and around Six Mile Point.


The next significant point along the highway is called Six Mile Point, or Hickory Grove, though it is not marked by a road sign. Here the climactic scenes of The Deerslayer take place, where the Hurons are encamped near the underwater shoal or ridge on which Cooper has placed Tom Hutter's "Muskrat Castle."

This spot was similar to the one already described [Three Mile Point], with the exception that the surface of the land was less broken, and less crowded with trees...the space beneath the branches bearing some resemblance to a densely wooded lawn. Favoured by its position and its spring, it had been much resorted to by savages and hunters, and the natural grasses had succeeded their fires, leaving an appearance of sward in places, a very unusual accompaniment of the virgin forest. Nor was the margin of water fringed with bushes, as on so much of its shore, but the eye penetrated the woods immediately on {87} reaching the strand, commanding nearly the whole area of the projection. [Chapter XXVII]

At Six Mile Point, towards the climax of The Deerslayer, Natty Bumppo makes a valiant but unsuccessful effort to escape from the Hurons. Cooper describes the chase in so much detail that it can only be summarized here:

After running south through the shallow waters along the shore for fifty yards, Deerslayer darts inland and climbs "in a diagonal direction up the acclivity, which was neither very high nor very steep, in this part of the mountain." Reaching the summit, he notes "that a deep glen intervened, before the base of a second hill could be reached." He hides under a log beyond the brow of the hill, and the pursuing Hurons, thinking he has gone ahead, jump over him and descend until "all were in the bottom of the glen, quite a hundred feet before him, and some had even ascended part of the opposite hill...."

Deerslayer then crawls back over the crest, and walks "swiftly but steadily along the summit, in a dirith a view to prevent his escaping in that direction, while some crossed his trail towards the water, in order to prevent his retreat by the lake, running southerly."

Seeing that "he was virtually surrounded on three sides, having the lake on the fourth," and finding that "he was descending towards the glen, by the melting away of the ridge," Deerslayer "turned short, at right angles to his previous course, and went down the declivity with tremendous velocity, holding his way towards the shore." [Chapter XXVII]

It is to no avail. Though Deerslayer breaks through the few Indians left at the Six Mile Point encampment, and shoves off in his canoe, he is quickly recaptured and abandons all further hope of escape.

The terrain around Six Mile Point, as shown on topographic maps, fits this description closely. Tracing Cooper's account on the map, Deerslayer climbs in an almost southerly direction up the slope of Red House Hill, which rises behind Six Mile Point. He follows a diagonal route somewhat to the south of today's Red House Hill Road, until he reaches the crest overlooking Mohican Canyon [the glen] one hundred feet below. There he turns sharply to the right, and follows the crest of Red House Hill in a northwest direction, until it begins to descend towards the level of the Mohican Canyon which parallels it on the south. Turning abruptly back to the east, Deerslayer descends the steep slope, somewhere near Red House Hill Road, and returns to Six Mile Point. Overall, as the crow flies, he has run about a mile and a half, with a climb of 350 feet above the lake level.

Muskrat Castle

Offshore from Six Mile Point, on the western side of the lake, is the fictional site of "Muskrat Castle," Tom Hutter's fortified home on stilts where much of the action in The Deerslayer takes place.

Muskrat Castle...stood in the open lake, at a distance of fully a quarter of a mile from the nearest shore. On every other side the water extended much farther, the precise position being distant about two miles from the northern end of the sheet, and near, if not quite a mile from its eastern shore.... On this spot alone, a long narrow shoal, which extended for a few hundred yards in a north and south direction, rose within six or eight feet of the surface of the lake, and...Hutter had driven piles into it, and placed his habitation on them, for the purpose of security. [Chapter II]

The shoal is real, though as Cooper {89} pointed out in his Preface to the 1850 edition of The Deerslayer, it "is a little misplaced, lying, in fact nearer to the northern end of the lake, as well as to the eastern shore, than is stated in this book." But, he added, "in all but precise location, even this feature of the book is accurate." The fictional location of Muskrat Castle has often been assumed to be further south off Five Mile Point, perhaps because Five Mile Point is more prominent and was long the site of a popular hotel. But only Six Mile Point fits both Cooper's careful description and the narrative.

In The Deerslayer the fictional Muskrat Castle is described as a formidable fortress:

A good deal of art had also been manifested in the disposition of the timber, of which the building was constructed, and which afforded a protection much greater than was usual to the ordinary log cabins of the frontier. The sides and ends were composed of the trunks of large pines, cut about nine feet long, and placed upright, instead of being laid horizontally, as was the practice of the country. These logs were squared on three sides, and had large tennons on each end. Massive sills were secured on the heads of the piles.... The floors were made of smaller logs, similarly squared, and the roof was composed of light poles, firmly united, and well covered with bark. The effect of this ingenious arrangement was to give its owner a house that could be approached only by water, the sides of which were composed of logs, closely wedged together, which were two feet thick in their thinnest parts, and which could be separated only by a deliberate and laborious use of human hands, or by the slow operation of time. [Chapter II]

Hetty's Grave

In The Deerslayer, Hetty Hutter's mother and her infant have been buried on the lake bed, {90} north of Muskrat Castle, and at the end of the novel Tom Hutter and Hetty herself are laid to rest beside them.

The castle stood near the southern extremity of a shoal that extended near half a mile northerly, and it was at the farthest end of this shallow water that Floating Tom had seen fit to deposit the remains of his wife and child. His own were now in the course of being placed at their side. [Chapter XXI].

Her [Hetty's] body was laid in the lake, by the side of the mother she had so loved and reverenced.... [Chapter XXXII].


Near the head of Lake Otsego lies "Sunken Island", a long narrow shoal that rises from the lake floor to within six feet of the surface. For literary purposes Cooper moved this shoal south and west to support Tom Hutter's "Muskrat Castle" in The Deerslayer. From the roadside near the state marker the shadow of the sunken island can be clearly seen. In 1911 the Vitagraph Company built a "replica" of Muskrat Castle on the real shoal, in order to make the first film version of The Deerslayer.

Part IV

The Eastern Shore of Lake Otsego

{93} County Route 31 follows the eastern shore of Lake Otsego, and continues north to join U.S. Route 20 at East Springfield. On this side of the lake the hills are steeper, and crowd more closely to the the lakeshore, than on the west. Much of the land belongs to the Clark Foundation, and the shore and hills are heavily forested.

The road up the eastern shore was built by William Cooper in l790, but the original route to Cooperstown from Cherry Valley and the east paralleled the Red Creek through the hills, along the route of present-day County Route 33. It turned to descend to the southern end of Lake Otsego along what is now called Chicken Farm Hill Road, crossing the Susquehanna River a few feet from its source.

The east side of the lake figure both in Cooper's life and in his fiction. The view from Mount Vision, where his father first glimpsed the lake and valley below, was of special significance to the author, and he wrote of it repeatedly and in detail. On a hillside further north he bought Chalet Farm, where for fifteen years he farmed and found needed privacy. The eastern shore of Lake Otsego and its surrounding hills also appear in Cooper's novels.

Some Cooper sites along the eastern shore are easily accessible; others are not normally open to the public. The latter can, however, be seen from the water.


{94} At the foot of Lake Otsego, just west of where the Susquehanna River begins its long journey to the sea, a small boulder that rises a few feet above the water has long been known as Council Rock. According to one of three descriptions of it in The Deerslayer:

The rock was not large, being merely some five or six feet high, only half of which elevation rose above the lake. The incessant washing of the water, for centuries, had so rounded its summit, that it resembled a large bee-hive in shape, its form being more than usually regular and even.... This rock was well known to all the Indians in that part of the country, and...they were in the practice of using it as a mark to designate their place of meeting, when separated by their hunts and marches. [Chapter III]

Council Rock figures in the novel as the place of rendezvous set by the Deerslayer and his Indian friend Chingachgook. That it did in fact identify a meeting place for Indians is suggested by the numerous arrow points and chips that could, in earlier days, be found on the adjacent shore, though no remains of permanent Indian settlements have been found in the vicinity.

Council Rock Park

In 1937 a flight of stone steps was built at the corner of River and Lake Streets, leading down to a terrace at lake level overlooking both Council Rock and the source of the Susquehanna, and was presented to the village by the Lake and Valley Garden Club. In 1957 Paul Fenimore Cooper, the author's great grandson, arranged the donation to the village of a one and one-quarter acre plot in front of Council Rock as a park, on condition that it remain forever in its natural state. It and the steps now form Council Rock Park.

Clinton Dam and
"The Cricket"

{95} During the American Revolution, in 1779, General James Clinton led a Continental army of 1,800 men from the Mohawk Valley down Otsego Lake and the Susquehanna River, to join with General John Sullivan in a punitive expedition against Iroquois Indians allied with the British. To carry his supply boats down the river, General Clinton built a temporary dam at the foot of the lake, the remains of which survived until 1825. A boulder surmounted by a Civil War era seige mortar, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1901, marks the site a few yards from Council Rock.

One relic of this expedition survived for a time, as Cooper recounted in The Chronicles of Cooperstown:

At a later day, in digging the cellar of the house first occupied by Judge Cooper, a large iron swivel was discovered.... This swivel was the only piece of artillery used for the purpose of salutes and merry-{96}makings in the vicinity of Cooperstown, for ten or twelve years after the settlement of the place. It is well and affectionately remembered by the name of the Cricket, and was bursted lately in the same good cause of rejoicing on the 4th of July. At the time of its final is said that there was no very perceptible difference in size, between its touchhole and its muzzle. [Chapter I]

This long-gone cannon appears, fictionally, in The Pioneers, when the settlers assemble their weapons to shoot at the annual swarm of migrating passenger pigeons:

Among the relics of the old military excursions...there had been found in Templeton, at its settlement, a small swivel, which would carry a ball of a pound weight.... This miniature cannon had been released from the rust, and being mounted on little wheels, was now in a state for actual service. For several years, it was the sole organ for extraordinary rejoicings used in those mountains. On the mornings of the Fourths of July, it would be heard ringing among the hills, and...considering its dimensions, it was no despicable gun for a salute. It was somewhat the worse for the service it had performed, it is true, there being but a trifling difference in size between the touch-hole and the muzzle. [Chapter XXII]


The Susquehanna River flows out of Lake Otsego, a few feet from Council Rock. Its beginning, "which did truly seem to be a stream lying in ambush," is described in The Deerslayer:

The high banks might have been a hundred feet asunder, but on the western side a small bit of low {97} land, extended so far forward, as to diminish the breadth of the stream to half that width. As the bushes hung in the water beneath, and pines that had the stature of church steeples, rose in tall columns above, all inclining towards the light until their branches intermingled, the eye, at a little distance, could not easily detect any opening in the shore to mark the egress of the water....

[Beyond] the fringe of bushes immediately on the shore of the lake...[was] a narrow stream, of a sufficient depth of limpid water, with a strong current, and a canopy of leaves, upheld by arches composed of the limbs of hoary trees. Bushes lined the shores, as usual, but they left sufficient space between them to admit the passage of any thing that did not exceed twenty feet in width, and to allow of a perspective ahead of eight or ten times that distance. [Chapter III]

Though there have been many changes, including the digging out of the banks for clay, and the construction of homes and boathouses along the riverbank, enough of the wilderness remains to conjure up Cooper's image, from Council Rock Park or from the bridge where Main Street spans the river.

The first bridge across the river was a pine tree felled across the stream near the outlet in 1786, the stump of which was still pointed out as "The Bridge Tree", 50 years later. A log bridge at the same spot replaced it the following year, from which travelers could ascend Stage Coach Lane to the main street of the village. A bridge was built at the present location in 1794, to connect with a new state road linking Cooperstown with Cherry Valley and Albany.


{98} East of the river, nestled in the hillside and surrounded by tall pines, is Woodside Hall, now an adult home, overlooking the end of Main Street. The handsome stone mansion was built in 1829 by Judge Eban B. Morehouse, in a blend of Federal and Greek Revival styles. Later owners included Joseph L. White, a lawyer and celebrated orator who was assassinated in Central America while working on a Nicaragua Canal project, and State Senator Walter C. Stokes. A small gatehouse near the road combines Gothic and Egyptian Revival features. When Martin Van Buren, the only sitting President to visit Cooperstown, dined at Woodside Hall in 1839, he is said to have a bit too much to drink and to have gotten lost trying to find his way from the house to the gate.

The grounds, but not the mansion itself, figure in Home as Found, when the Effinghams, on their first arrival in "Templeton", walk down from the summit of Mount Vision

until they reached the grounds of a house that was beautifully placed on the side of the mountain, near a lovely wood of pines. Crossing these grounds, until they reached a terrace in front of the dwelling, the village of Templeton lay directly in their front, perhaps a hundred feet beneath them, and yet so near, as to render the minutest object distinct. [Chapter X]


No location around Cooperstown had greater meaning to James Fenimore Cooper than the view of the village and lake from the top of Mount Vision, a hill rising some 500 feet above the lake immediately to the east of the village, and the southernmost of the summits which rise steeply from this side of the lake. This hill should not be confused with the hamlet of Mount Vision a dozen miles {99} to the southwest. It was from Mount Vision that Cooper's father first glimpsed Lake Otsego in 1785, and here, in The Pioneers and Home as Found, Cooper's fictional protagonists first catch sight of the lake and village.

The summit of Mount Vision can easily be reached on foot from the top of Chicken Farm Hill Road, which follows the old Great Western Turnpike route to Cherry Valley. This road (closed to vehicles in winter, but an easy walk from the base) branches upward from County Route 31 a few yards beyond Woodside Hall. Climbing steeply, past an abandoned quarry, it makes a hairpin right turn to reach a plateau where the slope flattens out and the road continues eastward to join County Route 33. The summit of Mount Vision is a short climb through the woods from the point where the slope flattens out, on the right (southern) side of the road. The hillside is thickly forested, and the village and lake can today be seen only intermittently through the trees. The scene that James Fenimore Cooper so admired can best be viewed from around the quarry, or from other vantage points where the slope is steepest.

Mount Vision in 1785

Judge William Cooper first sighted Lake Otsego from the summit of Mount Vision in the autumn of 1785, and while he did not himself write about it, his son put a "literally true" account of the moment into the mouth of Judge Temple in The Pioneers:

"I left my party, the morning of my arrival, near the farms of Cherry Valley, and, following a deer-path, rode to the summit of the mountain, that I have since called Mount Vision; for the sight that there met my eyes seemed to me as the deceptions of a dream. The fire had run over the pinnacle and in a great measure laid open the vie. The leaves were fallen, and I mounted a tree, and sat for an hour looking on the si{100}lent wilderness.

"Not an opening was to be seen in the boundless forest, except where the lake lay, like a mirror of glass. The water was covered by myriads of the wild-fowl that migrate with the changes in the season; and, while in my situation on the branch of the beech, I saw a bear, with her cubs, descend to the shore to drink.... Not the vestage of a man could I trace...from my elevated observatory. No clearing, no hut, none of the winding roads that are now to be seen, were there; nothing but mountains rising behind mountains, and the valley, with its surface of branches, enlivened here and there with the faded foliage of some tree, that parted from its leaves with more than ordinary reluctance. Even the Susquehanna was then hid, by the height and density of the forest." [Chapter XXI]

The View from Mount Vision
in 1793

In the opening chapters of The Pioneers (1823), Cooper describes the view in mid-winter, as seen by Judge Temple and his daughter on the frosty Christmas Eve of 1793:

Immediately beneath them lay a seeming plain, glittering, without inequality, and buried in mountains. The latter were precipitous, especially on the side of the plain, and chiefly in forest. Here and there the hills fell away in long, low points, and broke the sameness of the outline.... A few dark and moving spots were, however, visible on the even many sleighs going their several ways, to or from the village. On the western border of the plain, the mountains, though equally high, were less precipitous, and as they receded, opened into irregular valleys and glens, or were formed into terraces and hol{101}lows that admitted of cultivation.... The points on the western side of this remarkable plain, on which no plant had taken root, were both larger and more numerous than those of its eastern, and one in particular thrust itself forward in such a manner, as to form beautiful curved bays of snow on either side.

A dark spot of a few acres in extent at the southern extremity of this beautiful flat...alone showed, by its rippling surface, and the vapors which exhaled from it, that what at first might seem a plain, was one of the mountain lakes, locked in the frosts of winter.... Immediately on the bank of the lake and at its foot, stood the village of Templeton. [Chapter III]

The View in 1835

In Home as Found, the Effingham family, returning to "Templeton" from Europe in May of 1835, stop, as did their ancestors in The Pioneers, to admire the scene below:

Hundreds of feet beneath them, directly in front, and stretching leagues to the right, was a lake embedded in woods and hills. On the side next the travellers, a fringe of forest broke the line of water; tree tops that intercepted the view of the shores; and on the other, high broken hills, or low mountains rather, that were covered with farms, beautifully relieved by patches of wood, in a way to resemble the scenery of a vast park, or a royal pleasure ground, limited the landscape. High valleys lay among these uplands, and in every direction comfortable dwellings dotted the fields.... Bays and points added to the exquisite outline of the glassy lake on this shore, while one of the former withdrew towards the north-east, in a way to leave the eye doubtful whether it was the termination of the transparent sheet or not.... A wide, {101} deep, even valley, commenced at the southern end of the lake,...and stretched away south.... At the northern termination of this lovely valley, and immediately on the margin of the lake, lay the village of Templeton.... [Chapter IX]

Visitors seeking traces of Cooper in Cooperstown, should visit Mount Vision and seek to recapture the spell it cast on James Fenimore Cooper, as demonstrated in his descriptions, partially quoted here.


The old quarry on Chicken Farm Hill Road, was probably opened between 1796-1800, on the right of the road a few hundred yards from its beginning at the lake shore. It plays a part in the opening scenes of The Pioneers, when Richard Jones makes an almost disastrous attempt to turn around his four-horse sleigh:

It was in the quarry alone that he could effect the object, without ascending to the summit of the mountain. A very considerable excavation had been made in the side of the hill, at the point where Richard had succeeded in stopping the sleighs, from which the stones used for building in the village, were ordinarily quarried, and in which he now attempted to turn his team. [Chapter IV]

Not a few drivers seeking to ascend Chicken Farm Hill Road in the snow, after plowing has been terminated for the winter, have like Richard found the quarry entrance the only practicable place to change their minds and turn their vehicles around.

The abandoned quarry remains a picturesque spot frequented by hikers, with water spilling down its almost vertical sides and freezing into gigantic icicles in the winter. During the 1950s it was for several years {103}the site of an evening Christmas Carol program, to which the villagers ascended on foot, in the often bitter cold, with candles and flashlights.


Just beyond the entrance to Chicken Farm Hill Road is Lakewood Cemetery, established in 1856. Inside its principal entrance, on the right side of the {104} road, rises a memorial to James Fenimore Cooper. It is commonly known as the Leatherstocking Monument.

After Cooper's death in 1851, a memorial meeting in New York City chaired by the poet William Cullan Bryant sought funds for a statue to be erected in his honor in New York City, but only $658 was subscribed and the project languished. In 1858, residents of Cooperstown raised $2,500 in a drive of their own, to erect a monument in or near the village; the New York committee, represented by author Washington Irving, turned over its funds to the Cooperstown group. A prominent sculptor, Robert E. Launitz, was commissioned to carve the monument, and in 1860 it was completed and placed in Lakewood Cemetery.

The white Italian marble monument, on a six foot granite base, rises twenty-five feet to its Corinthian capital. The four sides are carved with emblems symbolic of Cooper and his works: the front (west) side with his name and wreath; the north with an anchor, crossed oars, sword and spyglass reflecting his naval career and sea stories; the south with a bow and arrows, tomahawk, and other Indian symbols; and the east with pen and inkwell, books, manuscript, and literary emblems. On top of the column is a four and one-half foot statue of Natty Bumppo, the "Leatherstocking," in a fur cap, loading his rifle with his faithful hound Hector at his side.

Cooper's Leatherstocking

Launitz' portrayal of Leatherstocking, like those of the many illustrators who have drawn Cooper's best-known character, should be compared with Cooper's first and most complete description of Natty Bumppo, as he appears in the beginning of The Pioneers:

He was tall, and so meager as to make him seem above even the six feet that he actually stood in his {105} stockings. On his head, which was thinly covered with lank, sandy hair, he wore a cap made of fox-skin.... His face was skinny, and thin almost to emaciation; but yet it bore no signs of disease—on the contrary, it had every indication of the most robust and enduring health. The cold and the exposure had, together, given it a colour of uniform red; his grey eyes were glancing under a pair of shaggy brows, that overhung them in long hairs of grey mingled with their natural hue; his scraggy neck was bare, and burnt to the same tint with his face; though a small part of a shirt collar, made of the country check, was to be seen above the over-dress he wore.

A kind of coat, made of dressed deer-skin, with the hair on, was belted close to his lank body, by a girdle of coloured worsted. On his feet were deer-skin moccasins, ornamented with porcupines' quills, after the manner of the Indians, and his limbs were guarded with long leggings of the same material as the moccasins, which, gartering over the knees of his tarnished buck-skin breeches, had obtained for him, among the settlers, the nick name of Leather-stocking. Over his left shoulder was slung a belt of deer-skin, from which depended an enormous ox horn, so thinly scraped, as to discover the powder which it contained. [Chapter I]


Fairy Spring Park, along the shore just beyond Lakewood Cemetery, was established as a village park in 1937, after the land was donated by Robert Sterling Clark. It provides swimming and picnic facilities to the public during the summer months.

Natty Bumppo's Hut

{106} Somewhere near the "Fairy Spring" which gives its name to the park, was the fictional location of Leatherstocking's hut by the side of the lake. Here, in The Pioneers, Natty Bumppo lives with his old Indian friend Chingachgook, and hides the mystery on which the plot turns. In the end, he burns the hut down rather than let strangers inside. The placing of Natty's fictional hut near the "Fairy Spring" does not come from The Pioneers, which says only that it stood "under the mountain, near the eastern bank of the lake," but from a passage in Home as Found:

"There, near the small house that is erected over a spring of delicious water, stood the hut of Natty Bumppo, once known throughout all these mountains as a renowned hunter; a man who had the simplicity of a woodsman, the heroism of a savage, the faith of a Christian, and the feelings of a poet.

"Yonder little fountain that you see gushing down from the thicket, and which comes glancing like diamonds into the lake, is called the `Fairy Spring,' by some flight of poetry,...fairies having never been known, even by tradition, in Otsego." [Chapter XIII]

Since Natty carefully preserves his secrets, Cooper provides no detailed description of his hut in The Pioneers.

Chingachgook's Grave

The Fairy Spring is also the final resting place of two of the fictional characters in The Pioneers. At the end of the novel, after Natty Bumppo's hut has been destroyed, the level plot on which it once stood is cleared and covered with grass, with a "circle of mason-work" enclosing two graves. The tombstone of Maj. Effingham notes {107} that the miseries of his old age were "alleviated only by the tender care of his old, faithful, and upright friend and attendant, Nathaniel Bumppo." The other tomb reads: "This stone is raised to the memory of an Indian Chief, of the Delaware tribe, who was known by the several names of John Mohegan; Mohican; and Chingachgook. He was the last of his people who continued to inhabit this country; and it may be said of him, that his faults were those of an Indian, and his virtues those of a man." [Chapter XLI]


Above the Fairy Spring, wrote Cooper in The Chronicles of Cooperstown, "Prospect Rock, which lies on the same range with The Vision, also offers a good view of the village and the valley, though it does not command as extensive an horizon as the first." [Chapter VII] Prospect Rock is the first summit to the north of Mount Vision, and the two have sometimes been confused. Here, in The Pioneers, Elizabeth Temple and Louisa Grant take an {108} almost fatal stroll:

The path took them but a short distance above the hut of Leather-stocking.... They had gained the summit of the mountain, where they left the highway, and pursued their course under the shade of the stately trees that crowned the eminence....

In this manner they proceeded along the margin of the precipice, catching occasional glimpses of the placid Otsego. [Chapter XXVIII]

The two young women are attacked by a "panther" (mountain lion), and rescued in the nick of time by Natty Bumppo.


About a mile from the foot of the lake, a state historical marker notes the site of "Natty Bumppo's Cave." A private dirt road leads diagonally to the right up the hillside, to a point where a cleared meadow opens on its right side. From the southeast corner of this meadow, at the far upper right end, a steep trail ascends several hundred yards to a deep cleft in the rocks traditionally known as "Natty Bumppo's Cave" and identified with the location where, in The Pioneers, Leatherstocking saves Elizabeth from a forest fire, and reveals the final mysteries of the story.

As Cooper describes this cave in The Pioneers, it is located on the side of Mount Vision, above the road, and is

a sort of a natural cavern, which was formed in the face of the rock, and was not unlike a fire-place in shape. In front of this place lay a pile of earth, which had evidently been taken from the recess, and part of which was yet fresh. An examination of the exterior of the cavern left...doubt whether it was one of na{109}ture's frolics that had thrown it into that shape, or whether it had been wrought by the hands of man, at some earlier period. But there could be no doubt that the whole of the interior was of recent formation....

The whole formed an excavation of about twenty feet in width, and nearly twice that distance in depth. The height was much greater than was required for the ordinary purposes of experiment; but this was evidently the effect of chance, as the roof of the cavern was a natural stratum of rock, that projected many feet beyond the base of the pile. Immediately in front of the recess, or cave, was a little terrace, partly formed by nature, and partly by the earth that had been carelessly thrown aside by the labourers. The mountain fell off precipitously in front of the terrace, and the approach by its sides, under the ridge of the rocks, was difficult, and a little dangerous. [Chapter XXIX]

Tradition has, however, identified this cave with the narrow cleft described above, though it is at least a mile north of the location specified by Cooper. This cave does not greatly resemble that of the story, and has no real interior, but it has been accepted by tradition and because the author's daughter Susan included an engraving of it in her Pages and Pictures, a compilation of extracts from Cooper's works published in 1861.

Another Natty
Bumppo's Cave?

In August 1909, Charles T. Cooke of Cooperstown (a great uncle of this guidebook's compiler) led an "Expedition" on behalf of The Glimmerglass, a daily newspaper intended primarily for the guests of the newly opened Otesaga Hotel, in search of the "real" Natty Bumppo's Cave. He found a cave considerably larger than the {110} "official" cave, in the woods further north beyond Point Judith. The Glimmerglass, which sought to emulate, tongue-in-cheek, the exploits of metropolitan dailies that sent explorers to Africa and the Arctic, duly claimed this new cave for Natty Bumppo. During the summer the cave was visited by numerous parties of tourists, including some "intrepid" women. Two years later, a conclave of Boy Scouts voted it "the real cave." Since then this cave has been has been lost sight of.

The Echo of the

In the lake about a mile north of the Fairy Spring, and some 275 yards offshore, opposite "Natty Bumppo's Cave," is the "Echo of the Glimmerglass." In Cooper's Home as Found, the protagonists say of it:

"I never knew a lady come on the Otsego, but one of the first things she did was to get paddled to the Speaking Rocks, to have a chat with herself. They come out in such numbers, sometimes, and then all {111} talk at once, in a way quite to confuse the echo. I suppose you have heard, young lady, the opinion people have now got concerning these voices."

"I cannot say I have every heard more than that they are some of the most perfect echoes known;...."

"Some people maintain that there is no echo at all, and that the sounds we hear come from the spirit of the Leather-stocking, which keeps about its old haunts, and repeats every thing we say, in mockery of our invasion of the woods. I don not say this notion is true, or that it is my own; but we all know that Natty did dislike to see a new settler arrive in the mountain, and that he loved a tree as a muskrat loves water." [Chapter XIV]

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Echo was made famous by Joseph Thomas Husbands (1808-1881), a former slave from Barbados who conducted excursions on the lake, and who would station his boat at the proper point and call out: "Natty Bumppo! Natty Bumppo! Who's there?" To which the echo would clearly call back the name several times. "Joe Tom," who is buried in Christ Churchyard, could sometimes evoke two or three separate echoes, from Hannah's Hill and Mount Vision, as well as from the mountainside on the immediate shore, with one single loud shout of "Natty Bumppo." In modern times, the boats that run tours around the lake in summertime hoot their horns when they reach the "Echo of the Glimmerglass."


Continuing up the dirt road leading from the state historical marker identifying "Natty Bumppo's Cave," is a large open field overlooking the lake, known from its shape as Star Field, and today occupied by {112} Fernleigh Farm, a part of the Clark Estate. This is the site of Chalet Farm, a 200-acre property purchased by James Fenimore Cooper in 1835, after he returned to Cooperstown. He called it Chalet Farm because of its location on the side of the hill, like the houses he had loved in Switzerland. The farmhouse was a small, two-story building with vertical board-and-batten siding, and here Cooper visited almost daily, sometimes even in winter when it could be reached only by sleigh. Chalet Farm, worked primarily by hired employees, provided fresh produce for the Cooper family and their guests at Otsego Hall, but it was never a financial success. As Cooper's grand niece, Constance Fenimore Woolson, wrote in 1871, "he [was] determined that the crops should grow, and the mountain [was] determined that they should not."

Chalet Farm seems to have served Cooper as a private refuge, and he rarely mentioned it in writing. His grand nephew George Pomeroy Keese wrote:

It was on this farm that Cooper sought relaxation from his mental labors; and he might be seen almost {113} any summer's day, not far from eleven o'clock, issuing from the gate of his mansion driving a tall sorrel horse not remarkable for his personal attractions, who rejoiced in the name of Pumpkin...because his first labor after coming into their possession was drawing a load of pumpkins for the use of his companion in the stable, Seraphina, the cow....

Mrs. Cooper frequently accompanied her husband on his excursions, and when the state of her health would not admit of exposure, he would take up some friend whom he hailed on the street, and make him the companion of his trip. He was generally absent about three hours, or until near his dinner time; during which time he superintended the various operations of the farm....

In later years, new buildings were erected, and in 1958 the old Chalet farmhouse where Cooper stayed burned down, probably as the result of arson. The site of its foundations, below the present large barn, is overgrown with brush. The location, Star Field, can easily be seen from the western side of the lake.


About two miles from the foot of the lake is Point Judith, the most prominent point on the eastern shore as seen from Cooperstown. In Cooperstown's early days, it was called Two Mile Point, and was the site of the first recorded picnic on Lake Otsego, given by William Cooper in August 1799 for visiting friends from Philadelphia. His ten-year old son James was probably one of the party. The point's present name derives from Judith Hutter in The Deerslayer, but it appears only in the epilogue to that tale, when Deerslayer returns to the Glimmerglass fifteen years after the story's climax:

The Ark was discovered stranded on the eastern {114} shore, where it had long before been driven with the prevalent northwest winds. It lay on the sandy extremity of a long low point, that is situated about two miles from the outlet, and which is itself fast disappearing before the action of the elements. The scow was filled with water, the cabin unroofed, and the logs were decaying. Some of its coarser furniture still remained, and the heart of Deerslayer beat quick, as he found a ribband of Judith's fluttering from a log. It recalled all her beauty, and we may add all her failings.... He tore away the ribband, and knotted it to the stock of [his rifle] Killdeer, which had been the gift of the girl herself. [Chapter XXXII]

Kingfisher Tower

In 1876, Edward Clark, grandfather of the Edward S. Clark who in the 1930s built Fenimore House and owned Fenimore Farm, built a miniature castle on piles just off Point Judith, in order to give a romantic focal point to the lake scenery. James Fenimore Cooper would certainly have approved; he had once lamented that Lake Otsego scenery only lacked the old castles he admired along the Rhine. Kingfisher Tower, designed after the style of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, is almost sixty feet high. It was designed by the noted architect Henry J. Hardenbergh (1847-1918), better known for the Dakota Apartment House and Plaza Hotel in New York City and the Willard Hotel in Washington. In Cooperstown, in addition to the Kingfisher Tower, Hardenbergh designed the Church & Scott Pharmacy building at the corner of Main and Pioneer Streets, and the Fenimore Cottages, now "The Inn At Cooperstown," at 14-16 Chestnut Street. Edward Clark proudly described Kingfisher Tower in a letter to the Freeman's Journal in 1876:

The castle is about twenty feet square at the base, {115} and at a height of five feet above the water is the main floor. Ten feet about this is the first platform, provided with ramparts and machicolated parapets. Above this stage the tower alone rises, eight feet square, crowned with a pyramidal roof pierced with a window on each side, the wall bearing at one angle a bartizan with conical roof.

The walls of the structure are most solidly built of stone from the shores of the lake, the roofs covered with earthen tiles, the bright red of which contrasts finely with the silver gray of the stone. The main windows are brilliant with stained glass, and each bears in the center a heraldic shield.... Stairs lead to the highest platform of the tower, and from the numerous openings and loopholes with which the walls are pierced, a fine panoramic view of the lake and country can be obtained.

Point Judith and Kingfisher Tower are not accessible to the public, but can be seen and admired from the lake.


Further north on the eastern shore of the lake, about five miles from its foot, is Gravelly Point. Here the hero of The Deerslayer arrives while paddling after a drifting canoe:

On the immediate point there was a small open area, partly in native grass, and partly beach, but a dense fringe of bushes lined its upper side. The narrow belt of dwarf vegetation passed, one issued immediately into the high, and gloomy vaults of the forest. The land was tolerably level for a few hundred feet, and then it rose precipitously in a mountain side. The trees were tall, large, and so free from underbrush, that they resembled vast columns, irregularly scat{116}tered, upholding a dome of leaves. [Chapter VII]

Landing on the point, Deerslayer is treacherously fired upon by a Huron bent on seizing his canoe, and instinctively returns the fire, mortally wounding the Indian. As he lies dying, cradled by a shocked Natty Bumppo, the Indian asks the young man's name. Bumppo replies,

"Deerslayer is the name I bear now, though the Delawares have said that when I get back from this war-path, I shall bear a more manly title, provided I can 'arn one."

"That good name for boy—poor name for warrior. Get better quick. No fear there [tapping Deerslayer on the breast]—eye, sartain—finger, lightening—aim, death. Great warrior, soon—No Deerslayer—Hawkeye—Hawkeye—Hawkeye—Shake hand." [Chapter VII]

The Indian expires, and Natty Bumppo gains a new name, though he is still referred to as Deerslayer through the rest of the novel. Gravelly Point is not accessible from land.


Still further north, almost opposite Six Mile Point on the western shore, is Pegg's Point at the entrance to Hyde Bay, where in The Deerslayer Natty Bumppo and Hurry Harry first reach the shore of Lake Otsego.

They both broke suddenly into the brilliant light of the sun, on a low gravelly point, that was washed by water, on quite half of its outline.

An exclamation of surprise broke from the lips of Deerslayer...when on reaching the margin of the lake he beheld the view that unexpectedly met his gaze.... On a level with the point lay a {117} broad sheet of water, so placid and limpid, that it resembled a bed of the pure mountain atmosphere, compressed into a setting of hills and woods. Its length was about three leagues, while its breadth was irregular, expanding to half a league, or even more, opposite to the point, and contracting to less than half that distance more to the southward. Of course its margin was irregular, being indented by bays, and broken by many projecting, low, points. At its northern, or nearest end, it was bounded by an isolated mountain, lower land falling off, east and west, gracefully relieving the sweep of the outline....

But the most striking peculiarities of this scene, were its solemn solitude, and sweet repose. On all sides, wherever the eye turned, nothing met it, but the mirror-like surface of the lake, the placid void of heaven, and the dense setting of wood. So rich and fleecy were the outlines of the forest, that scarce an opening could be seen, the whole visible earth, from the rounded mountain-top, to the water's edge, presenting one unvaried hue of unbroken verdure.... The trees overhung the lake, itself, shooting out towards the light, and there were miles along its eastern shore, where a boat might have pulled beneath the branches, of dark, Rembrandt-looking hem-locks, "quivering aspens," and melancholy pines. In a word, the hand of man had never yet defaced, or deformed any part of this native scene, which lay bathed in the sun-light, a glaring picture of affluent forest grandeur, softened by the balminess of June.... [Chapter II]

Natty Bumppo's fictional arrival at the shore of Lake Otsego has traditionally been placed on the west shore, where a state historical marker used to identify the site as "Hutter's Point." A careful reading of Cooper's text, as well as the historical location of trails to "the settlements" along the Schoharie River and the British garrison at Fort Hunter, which in 1745 were the only settle{118}ments west of Schenectady, make it clear that Cooper intended Pegg's Point for this important scene.

Cooper describes Tom Hutter's fictional offshore home on stilts, "Muskrat Castle," as lying almost a mile from the eastern shore, and only a quarter of a mile from the western shore, but it takes the frontiersmen fifteen minutes to reach it by canoe from the point of their arrival on the lake. [Chapter II] Deerslayer later lands Hurry Harry "at the precise point where he is represented, in the commencement of our tale, as having embarked...because he was sufficiently familiar with the signs of the woods, at that spot, to thread his way through them in the dark." [Chapter XXIII] Finally, Hetty Hutter describes this place as "the point, near the east bay...." [Chapter XXVI] A map of Lake Otsego in the authoritative Cooper Edition of The Deerslayer, published in 1987, also places the scene at Pegg's Point.

The main action of The Deerslayer ends back at Pegg's Point, where the British troops who have rescued Deerslayer and his friends, and Deerslayer himself, finally leave the Lake:

One party [of troops]...bearing the wounded, the prisoners, and the trophies...had been landed on the point, so often mentioned, or that described in our opening pages, and, when the sun set, was already encamped on the brow of the long, broken, and ridgy hills, that fell away towards the valley of the Mohawk....

The Ark had already arrived and the soldiers had disembarked, before the canoe of [Deerslayer and Judith Hutter] reached the point. Chingachgook had preceded it, and was already some distance in the wood, at a spot, where the two trails, that to the garrison, and that to the villages of the Delawares separated.... The Glimmerglass had no longer any charms for [Judith] and when she put her foot on the strand, she immediately proceeded on the trail of the soldiers....

For some time Deerslayer was irresolute as to his course; but, in the end, he...joined the Delaware. [Chapter XXXII]

Pegg's Point is on private property, but can easily be seen from the water.


At the northern end of Lake Otsego, Hyde Bay extends to the northeast, and is today the site of the Glimmerglass State Park, with facilities for camping and hiking. Much of the terrain is marshy, and it is somewhere in this area that Natty Bumppo and Hurry Harry first reach the lake in The Deerslayer.

A man of gigantic mould broke out of the tangled labyrinth of a small swamp, emerging into an opening that appeared to have been formed partly by the ravages of the wind, and partly by those of fire. This little area, which afforded a good view of the sky, although it was pretty well filled with dead trees, lay on the side of one of the high hills, or low mountains, into which nearly the whole surface of the adjacent country was broken....

"Hurrah! Deerslayer; here is day-light, at last, and yonder is the lake, itself." [Chapter I]

Hyde Hall

Within Glimmerglass State Park is Hyde Hall, a magnificent forty-room limestone English {120} manor house begun in 1817 and completed in 1834 by George Hyde Clarke (1768-1835). George Hyde Clarke was a great grandson of George Clarke (1736-1743) who as lieutenant governor of New York from 1736 to 1743 had acquired over 100,000 acres of land in central New York. Designed in the Greek Revival style by architect Philip Hooker, the massive building, centered around a courtyard, is architecturally unique in Otsego County. George Hyde Clarke in 1813 married Anne Low Carey, widow of James Fenimore Cooper's brother Richard. The marriage took place a few weeks after Richard's death. Though Anne insisted the marriage was valid, rumors persisted that Clarke had a wife and family in England. These rumors, and Anne's precipitous conduct, led to life-long questions about the paternity and legitimacy of Alfred Cooper Clarke (1813-1869), who was later adopted by his step-father. The Clarke family lived in Hyde Hall well into the twentieth century, but the building gradually fell into disrepair. Acquired by New York State as part of the Glimmerglass State Park, the old manor house is gradually being restored by The Friends of Hyde Hall, which administers the site and conducts guided tours of the building.

The Sleeping Lion

Finally, at the northern end of Lake Otsego, rising 600 feet above lake level, is Mount Wellington, known from its shape as "The Sleeping Lion." It is what Cooper saw, when he looked up the lake from his window in Otsego Hall. It is said that the mountain was originally christened Mount Millington, but was renamed by George Hyde Clarke in honor of the Duke of Wellington, the victor of Waterloo, who had been Clarke's schoolmate at Eton College in England.



{123} The western border of Otsego County is formed by the Unadilla River, which flows south to join the Susquehanna River near the town of Sidney. Before the American Revolution the Unadilla marked the western limit of white settlement, set by the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwyx signed with the Iroquois Indians. The broad and fertile Butternut Valley winds southwest through western Otsego County. The Butternut Creek flows down the valley to enter the Unadilla about ten miles north of the point where the Unadilla enters the Susquehanna. Among the geological features of the Butternut Valley are the round hillocks, or knolls, that rise up along the floodplain of Butternut Creek.


In 1769 Col. Staats Long Morris obtained and began to settle a patent of over 33,000 acres along the Butternut Valley. His efforts were interrupted by the American Revolution, which became in central New York a civil war between American Patriots and Americans loyal to the Crown. The farms and settlements of both sides were burned and most white settlers were temporarily driven from the area. Because Col. Morris, a career officer in the British Army, remained loyal to the British cause, the Morris Patent was confiscated in 1785 and given to his patriot brothers Richard and Lewis, the latter a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

{124} General Jacob Morris (1755-1844), Lewis Morris's son, first came to the Butternut Valley in 1787 and settled on the Morris Patent ten miles up Butternut Creek, where Morris Brook enters the creek through a deep ravine from the hills to the north. The site is now the intersection of State Route 51 and Dimock Hollow Road, some three miles south of the village of Morris. Jacob Morris first built a frame house south of the brook's outlet into Butternut Creek, and several years later a second one a bit further south. The large mansion now known as Morris Manor, for many generations the home of the Morris family, was built in 1805 just to the north of the brook.

Like William Cooper, General Morris was a staunch Federalist. The two families, both prominent in the affairs of the fledgling Otsego County, established a close friendship and frequently exchanged visits. The author's brother Isaac married Jacob's daughter Mary Ann Morris (1784-1873) in 1804, and brought her to Cooperstown to live. It is therefore not surprising that Cooper's Wyandotté or The Hutted Knoll (1843), a novel of the conflicts of Revolution on the New York frontier, is set in the Butternut Valley that was so familiar to him.


Captain Willoughby, the British protagonist of Wyandotté, settles in colonial America after the French and Indian War and marries an American wife. Learning of 6,000 acres of prime bottom land, including a large beaver pond, in central New York, he obtains in 1765 a grant of of the land as a reward for his military services. He has the land surveyed and marked out with blazed trees and "butternut corners," and heads west from Albany to inspect it:

After finding their way to the head of the Canader{125}aga, mistaking it for the Otsego, they...wormed their way through the Oaks, into the Susquehannah, descending that river until they reached the Unadilla, which stream they ascended until they came to the small...creek, that ran through the Captain's new estate.

There the Captain finds a large beaver pond, of some 400 acres, in the center of which rises "an island of some five or six acres in extent. It was a rocky knoll that rose forty feet above the surface of the water.... The stream had long before been dammed, successions of families of beavers having probably occupied the place...for centuries...." [Chapter I]

Captain Willoughby destroys the dam, draining the pond and leaving the large natural clearing or "beaver meadow" that had first drawn him to the site. He builds his first "hut" on the former island, and here his Scotch mason, Jamie Allen, erects the walled homestead that Willoughby calls the Hutted Knoll in honor of its humble beginnings. Nearby, Willougby's sawmills are "buried in the ravine," out of sight, and this "glen...was very narrow, so much so, as barely to leave sites for the buildings themselves...." [Chapters IV, XXV]

Morris Manor as the
Hutted Knoll

Morris Manor has long claimed to be the site of Wyandotté, with the Morris Creek ravine as the model for the glen that concealed Captain Willoughby's mills. But Cooper does not seem as topographically exact as in the novels set around Lake Otsego. One cannot, for example, identify a narrowing of the riverbanks or cliff-edged knoll corresponding with site of the beaver pond described in Wyandotté. But the Hutted Knoll is certainly intended to be in the Butternut Valley, though the real landscape seems {126} rather more gentle than that depicted in the novel.

In describing Willoughby's house, Cooper may have thought of Hyde Hall at the head of Lake Otsego which, like The Hutted Knoll, is built around a central courtyard. Moreover, Hyde Hall's proprietors suffered from the social unrest of the "anti-rent wars" between landlords and tenants in the mid-1840s, unrest which is foreshadowed in Wyandotté, and which was to become the main topic of the "Littlepage Trilogy" of novels Cooper wrote during the next few years.

Historical Sources
for Wyandotté

The plot of Wyandotté, with its familial conflicts between loyalist, patriot, and would-be neutral, seems influenced by local Revolutionary incidents with which Cooper was familiar.*

* Cooper's sources for Wyandotté are discussed in the historical introduction to the Cooper Edition, and in James H. Pickering's article in New York History, July 1982.

Mount Edmeston was a 5,000-acre grant a few miles further up the Unadilla River, made to British Army Major William Edmeston and his brother Robert as reward for their services in the French and Indian War. Major Edmeston established a settlement near the present village of Edmeston between 1770 and 1773, but it was burned in 1778 by pro-British Indians apparently unaware of his agent's loyalist sentiments. In Wyandotté, after Captain Willoughby establishes himself at the Hutted Knoll, he "visited Edmeston of Mount Edmeston, a neighbor less than fifty miles distant; [and] was occasionally seen at Johnson Hall, with Sir William, or at the bachelor establishment of Sir John, on the Mohawk...." [Chapter III]

Col. Hendrick Frey (1734-1827) of Canajoharie on the Mohawk River, tried to remain neutral {127} during the Revolution but, despite having a brother who was an active patriot, was several times imprisoned. After the Revolution he became a close friend of William Cooper and regularly visited Cooperstown. Frey was the prototype for the fictional Major Fritz Hartmann in The Pioneers. His story may also have contributed to that of Captain Willoughby.

Finally, Captain Willoughby's fictional beaver pond reflects the experience of a Major McVickar, who retired from his British regiment in 1765 and settled on a thirty-acre beaver pond in Vermont, only to be evicted by Yankee litigants. His attempt at settlement is described in Memoirs of an American Lady (1808), by his daughter Anne McVickar Grant. The book was well known to Cooper, who also borrowed from its descriptions of early Albany and the trails to Lake Ontario in his Satanstoe (1845) and The Pathfinder (1840).

But long before Cooper published Wyandotté in 1843, he had written The Spy (1821) and Lionel Lincoln (1825), both novels portraying the moral ambiguities of the American Revolution. His wife Susan's heritage as a DeLancey, a family whose American branch was all but destroyed by the Revolution, no doubt contributed to all three novels.


On the west side of State Route 51, almost exactly 2.5 miles south of the "Four Corners" traffic light in the village of Morris, is a square marble pillar, about seven feet high, surrounded by a wrought iron fence. It marks the spot where James Fenimore Cooper's oldest sister Hannah Cooper (1777-1800) died on September 10, 1800.

Hannah Cooper and her brother Richard had set out from Cooperstown to ride to Morris Manor, {128} a trip of some twenty-four miles. According to family tradition, she was worried about the nervous temperament of the her horse, a purebred and spirited English mare, but her brothers ridiculed her with timidity and she yielded. As the party neared its destination the horse shied at a dog, and she was thrown, fracturing her skull against a root. Richard brought news of the accident back to Cooperstown, and her father and other family members started on a long and silent ride to Morris. Hannah's body was brought back to Cooperstown, and laid on the old dining table in Otsego Hall. She was buried in the Cooper Plot in Christ Churchyard, the stone inscribed only with verses written by her father; the identifying name and dates were added later.

The marble monument which stands where Hannah Cooper died was erected by admirers from Philadelphia, where she had accompanied her father William Cooper while he attended Congress as Representative from western New York. Three sides of the simple marble column are engraved with verse, and its top is formed into a chalice. The inscription on the south side reads:

Sacred to the Memory of
Miss Hannah Cooper, Daughter
of the Honble William Cooper
and Elizabeth his Wife.
In the bloom of Youth, in perfect
health, and surrounded with her
On the 10th day of September, 1800
She was instantly translated from
this World
Thrown from her horse, on the spot
on which this monument is erected.
Sensible, gentle, amiable,
In life beloved, in death lamented,
By all who knew her.
Unconscious of her own perfections
{129} She was a stranger to all ambition
but that of doing good.
By her death The tender joys of an affectionate
Father, the fond expectations of
a delighted Mother
In an instant were blasted!
And for a moment reflect— That neither accomplishments of
{130} Nor great improvements of mind
Nor yet greater goodness of heart,
Can arrest the hand of Death.
But—She was prepared for that
Immortality, in which she believed
And of which she was worthy—
To departed worth and excellence
This monument is erected.

This tribute of affection is inscribed
By a friend, this 1st day of January, 1801.

The lines have been attributed to various admirers, of whom the most likely was J. H. Imlay of Philadelphia. The north and east sides of the monument bear lengthy verses, with no biographic references, by a Mrs. Meredith and a Miss Wistar, also of Philadelphia. A poem intended for the fourth side was never inscribed.

The Belle of Otsego Hall

The lively, studious, and beautiful Hannah Cooper was not only beloved to her family, but had many admirers. One of them, William Henry Harrison, was elected President in 1840. Another was the French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (1754-1838), later Foreign Minister to Napoleon, who visited America in 1794-97. On his way to Niagara Falls in September 1795, Talleyrand visited Cooperstown as the guest of William Cooper, and was so struck by the seventeen-year-old Hannah that he is said to have written the acrostic poem in her honor that appeared anonymously, as follows, in the Oct. 2, 1795 issue of the Otsego Herald:

A imable philosophe au printems de son age,
N i les tems ni les lieux n'alterent son esprit.
N e cedent qu'a ses gouts, simple et son etalage,
A u milieu des deserts, Elle lit—pense—ecrit. {131}

C ultivez, Belle Anna, votre gout pour l'etude;
O n ne saurait ici mieux employer son tems.
O tsego n'est pas gai—mais tout est habitude:
P aris vous deplairait fort au premier moment.
E t qui jouit de soi dans une solitude,
R entrant au monde, est sur d'en faire l'ornement.

An informal translation might read:

Cheerful philosopher in the springtime of her life,
Neither time nor place changes her disposition.
Following her own taste, simple and without affectation,
In the midst of the desert she reads—ponders—writes.

Cultivate, Beautiful Anna, your taste for study;
You cannot here better employ your time;
Otsego is not merry—but habit is everything:
Even Paris would much displease you at first.
One who can be content in a wasteland,
On returning to the world is certain to shine.


{133} The novels of James Fenimore Cooper remained popular throughout the nineteenth century and up to the First World War. Complete sets of his romances were published every few years. Then Cooper was gradually forgotten. The novels that remained in print, including the five Leatherstocking Tales, were considered as "children's literature" and placed on school reading lists, although their leisurely style and detailed descriptions did not often appeal to children. In Europe, Cooper's popularity proved more durable, and continues to this day, especially in Germany and Russia. Indeed, 24 million copies of Cooper novels have been published in the Soviet Union in the last decade and a half.

During the past few decades Cooper has enjoyed a renaissance, based not only on a renewed interest in his writing as literature, but also on an appreciation of his trenchant social commentary. James Fenimore Cooper lived through a critical period in the development of American society, and his portrayals of the era bear comparison with that of Tocqueville. His concern with basic issues of morality, social justice, government, and economic development are often far ahead of his time. Thus The Pioneers can lay a real claim to be the first novel of ecology, and the less-familiar The Bravo anticipates George Orwell's portrayal of state totalitarianism in 1984 by over a century.

Cooper's novels, and other writings, can be read with enjoyment and profit today. To best appreciate them, however, the reader will do well to follow the {134} cadence and rhythm of language written as much to be read aloud as to be silently skimmed, and to accept the nineteenth century romantic fictional conventions in which the modest but valiant hero always wins the chaste heroine, and somebody always turns out to be in disguise. Overcoming these difficulties, the reader will be rewarded by some of the best description of the sea and the wilderness in all of literature, by exciting action on land and water, by engaging portraits of men and women of all social classes and many ethnic groups, by a vigorous portrait of the brawling American society of the first half of the 1800s, and by thought-provoking discussion of issues and problems that are still very much with us.

It is hoped that this Guidebook will not only serve admirers of Cooper interested in his links with Otsego County, but will also encourage others to explore the enormous treasury of writings left by one of America's foremost literary figures.


For more on James Fenimore Cooper, his literary works, and on his life in Otsego County, the following are good starting points. For more specific information see the Bibliography of works consulted in preparing this guidebook.


The five Leatherstocking Tales are easily available in paperback editions at most good bookstores. Other Cooper works are harder to come by. No full set of Cooper's novels has been published for many years, but some titles have been reprinted, and old sets and individual novels can often be found secondhand. In 1980 the State University of New York Press, at Albany, began issuing the authoritative Cooper Edition of James Fenimore Cooper's works, under the general editorship of James F. Beard. These are handsome editions with carefully edited texts, extensive contemporary illustrations, and ample but unobtrusive notes. The series now includes The Pioneers, The Deerslayer, and the three other Leatherstocking Tales, as well as Wyandotté, five volumes of European travel, and a growing list of other titles. [The series is currently be extended by AMS Press.] Penguin Books has used these Cooper Edition texts in its latest paperback edition of The Leatherstocking Tales. Home as Found was reprinted as a paperback in 1961 by Capricorn Books in New York, and The Chronicles of Cooperstown is included in several Cooperstown local histories. James F. Beard in 1960-68 published a definitive, six-volume edition of Cooper's Letters and Journals.


Over the years there have been many biographies of James Fenimore Cooper, as well as extensive literary commentaries on his works. Among the better works, many still in print in original or reprint editions, are Robert E. Spiller's Fenimore Cooper: Critic of his Times (1931), James Grossman's James Fenimore Cooper (1949), Donald A. Ringe's James Fenimore Cooper (1962), Stephen Railton's Fenimore Cooper: A Study of his Life and Imagination (1978), and Wayne Franklin's The New World of James Fenimore Cooper (1982). Mary E. Phillips's James Fenimore Cooper (1913) is out of print except in expensive facsimile, but is filled with anecdotes and hundreds of illustrations of Cooper sites [and is available on-line]. James F. Beard is preparing a new critical biography of Cooper based on the primary sources. [Alas, it never appeared.]

[Since Cooper's Otsego County first appeared in 1989 there have been a number of important new biographical and critical works. Notable are Robert Emmet Long's James Fenimore Cooper (1990), Geoffrey Rans' Cooper's Leather-Stocking Novels: A Secular R4ading (1991), Alan Taylor's William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (1995), and especially Wayne Franklin's James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years (2007).]


Sources on Cooperstown are diverse, mostly out of print, and hard to find outside major collections, such as that of the New York State Historical Association Library in Cooperstown [though increasing numbers of them are now appearing on-line]. William Cooper's A Guide in the Wilderness (1810), reprinted most recently in 1986 by the Cooper family, describes the settlement philosophy of Cooperstown's founder and the earliest history of the area. Ralph Birdsall's The Story of Cooperstown (1917), is full of lively anecdotes but lacks references. James Fenimore Cooper's own The Chronicles of Cooperstown (1838) has several times been reprinted and extended up to date by Cooperstown newspaper editors. The latest version, History of Cooperstown, was published by the New York State Historical Association in 1976 [and is now on-line]. Cooper's grandson, also named James Fenimore Cooper, published the valuable The Legends and Traditions of a Northern County (1921) and Reminiscences of Mid-Victorian Cooperstown (1936, reprinted 1986). Numerous articles, both on Cooper and on Otsego County, have appeared in New York History, the quarterly journal of the New York State Historical Association.


{139} (1745) Fictional setting of The Deerslayer
(1765-76) Fictional setting of Wyandott&ecute;
1786 William Cooper founds Cooperstown
1789 James Fenimore Cooper born in Burlington, New Jersey on September 15; the Manor House built
1790 Cooper brought to Cooperstown
(1793) Fictional setting of The Pioneers
1799 Otsego Hall built
1800 Hannah Cooper dies near Morris Manor
1809 William Cooper dies
1811 Cooper marries, moves to Westchester County
1813 Cooper settles at Fenimore Farm
1817 Cooper's mother, Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper dies; Cooper returns to Westchester County
1823 Cooper publishes The Pioneers, his third novel
1834 Cooper buys back and remodels Otsego Hall, after living for seven years in Europe
(1835) Fictional setting of Home as Found
1836 Cooper resettles permanently in Cooperstown
1838 Cooper publishes Home as Found and The Chronicles of Cooperstown
1840 Cooper remodels Christ Church
1841 Cooper publishes The Deerslayer
1843 Cooper publishes Wyandotté
1851 Cooper dies on September 14
1852 Cooper's wife, Susan DeLancey Cooper, dies
1853 Otsego Hall burns
1855 Cooper's daughters build Byberry Cottage
1860 Leatherstocking Monument erected
1876 Kingfisher Tower built
1897 Cooper Grounds established as a park
1939 Cooper Sesquicentennial; New York State Historical Association moves to Cooperstown
1940 Cooper Statue erected in Cooper Park; Cooper commemorative postage stamp issued
1945 Fenimore House becomes headquarters of New York State Historical Association
1958 Chalet Farm burns
1978 First bi-annual Conference on "James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art" at State University College of New York, Oneonta and Cooperstown (repeated 1980,1982, 1984, 1986, and 1989) [and every two years since]
1986 Cooperstown celebrates its Bicentennial
1989 Bicentennial of James Fenimore Cooper's birth [establishment of James Fenimore Cooper Society]