The village is pure Americana, a one-stoplight town nestled between the Adirondacks and the Catskills in Central New York. It drew its name from the family of James Fenimore Cooper – whose father, William, founded the village – whose works of literature have become American standards.
And yet Cooperstown has become a synonym for “baseball” – thanks to a story about a Civil War general and the country’s love for a timeless game.
By the last half of the 19th Century, baseball had become the National Pastime. The United States was a little more than 100 years old, and baseball had evolved with the country.
But there was no definitive answer as to the birth of the game.
Enter the Spalding Commission, a board created by sporting goods magnate and former player A.G. Spalding to establish the genesis of baseball. And after a few years of searching, they found their answer.
Abner Graves, a mining engineer, proclaimed that Abner Doubleday – a decorated Union Army officer who directed the first shot at Fort Sumter at the start of the Civil War and later served at the Battle of Gettysburg – invented baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown.
That was good enough for the Spalding Commission, which came to its conclusion in 1907.
Three decades later, Cooperstown philanthropist Stephen C. Clark – seeking a way to celebrate and protect the National Pastime as well as an economic engine for Cooperstown – asked National League president Ford C. Frick if he would support the establishment of a Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The idea was welcomed, and in 1936 the inaugural Hall of Fame class of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner was elected.