A Catskill Catalog: July 7, 2010
The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown makes a great day trip destination with the kids this summer. Even without kids, The Farmers’ Museum provides a pleasant and informative summer day.
The drive up Route 28 is beautiful, lushly green at the height of a Catskill summer. A half-hour beyond Oneonta, Cooperstown announces itself with a bit of sprawl: shopping plazas, eateries, and youth baseball fields. Cross the railroad tracks at the entrance to the village, and sprawl gives way to what is still one of the loveliest small towns in America.
At the downtown Main Street intersection, go straight, bearing slightly left. Pass the elegant red brick Otesaga Hotel, opened in 1909 and still one of the great old resort hotels in America. Its imposing front portico features massive 30-foot columns. The Leatherstocking Golf Course hugs the shore of Lake Otsego on your right. The course is open to the public, with greens fees around $100.
The great stone barn of The Farmers’ Museum signals your arrival. Today, the barn is the museum’s exhibition hall, but once the impressive stone structure housed the prized dairy cattle of Edward S. Clark. Built in 1918, the barn was designed by Frank Whiting, an architect and artist who lived and worked in Cooperstown and New York City
The Clark family made their fortune as owners of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. For several generations, the Clarks have been Cooperstown’s benefactors, instrumental in the founding, in 1944, of the Farmers’ Museum, as well as the many other Cooperstown attractions.
Admission to the museum is $12 for adults, $6 for children 7 to 12, and $10.50 for those over 65. Children under seven get in free.
Enter between the two stone silos. The exhibition hall features the Cardiff giant, a great stone hoax that set the country on its ear in 1869, when George Hull, a New York tobacco seller, claimed the 10-foot limestone statue was a petrified man, one of a species of giants who once roamed the earth. Hull was able to charge admission to see the giant, and attracted a big money offer from P.T. Barnum to buy the thing. “A sucker is born every moment,” a famous dictum attributed to Barnum, dates from the thousands who paid 50 cents a piece to see the Cardiff giant. This at a time when a typical wage was a dollar a day.
Exit the barn to enter the 1910 Country Fair, featuring the Empire State Carousel, an authentic, handmade merry-go-round depicting New York State culture and history. The carousel features carvings, paintings, and quilts created by New York State artisans between 1984 and 2003.
Two red and white striped carnival tents house carnie barkers ready to entertain children and adults with games and amusements. The people who work at The Farmers’ Museum seem always ready to engage, inform, and entertain.
Beyond the carnival is a recreated 19th-century village and working farm. Historic buildings from around central New York have been moved to the 120-acre museum site, creating a village that contains a general store, doctor’s office, pharmacy with herb garden, law office, blacksmith shop, print shop, schoolhouse, church, homes, and farm buildings.
The print shop contains a flatbed press built in the 1840s. The printer, a full-time, year-round employee, sets all the type by hand, printing posters, broadsides, and books for use around the grounds. Members of the public may contract with the museum to print wedding invitations and the like.
The Andes Recorder, a 19th-century newspaper, was printed on the press, just one of the Catskill connections to the museum.
Another is the Jonas and Deborah More House. Jonas More was a son of John and Betty Taylor More, who came to America in 1772 from Inverness Shire, Scotland, and settled in Roxbury in 1786. John More was a Revolutionary War veteran. His son, Jonas, was a prosperous farmer and community leader who served as town supervisor for several terms in the 1830s and 1840s.
The More house stood on a 400-acre hillside farm between Roxbury and Hubbell Corners. In 1999, the house was dismantled and moved to The Farmers’ Museum. The house had been built in 1818 by Edmund Kelly Jr. whose sister, Amy, married Chauncey Burroughs, baring 10 children, including the writer John Burroughs.
The Lippitt Farmstead, at the far end of the museum grounds, features a modest farmhouse, two barns, and six other outbuildings, including a smokehouse, poultry house, and hop house. Hops were an important crop in the Cooperstown area. A hop field has newly planted vines climbing tall poles.
Children, particularly, are encouraged to pet and enjoy the many animals that live on the farm. I got a chance to get to know a 16-year-old Percheron draft horse named Zachariah. He and a pair of oxen provide all the drawing power on the farm. Chickens, turkeys, and sheep abound, and the vegetable, herb, and heritage flower gardens provide a visual education in plant identification.
There’s an ice cream parlor and souvenir store where well-behaved children can receive a just reward at the end of their visit. For others, the car in the parking lot is just a few steps beyond.