On a cloudy day this past July I found myself on a film shoot at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. As I made my way back to the car along a tree-lined street only a block from the Hall of Fame, I took a planned detour into a small inconspicuous cemetery. For most of the morning throngs of tourists and a cacophony of noise had surrounded me. However, within the peaceful grounds of Christ Church Episcopal Cemetery, my only companions were a few of Cooperstown’s more important historical figures.
The quaint cemetery is the final resting place of both William Cooper and his son James Fenimore Cooper. Many people know James Fenimore Cooper as the author of the Leatherstocking Tales, a series of historical novels that explore the frontier of 18th century America, but they may be less familiar with his father William. However, William Cooper helped put Cooperstown on the map – literarily.
In 1785, William Cooper purchased forty thousand acres of land bordering Otsego Lake. It took him less then three weeks to sell all this land to eager settlers. In 1786, Cooper founded the town that would eventually bare his name and moved his family, including his one-year-old son James, there in 1790. The first settlers had a tough existence on the frontier as everything the new settlement needed had to be carried through the thick New York wilderness. However, the same wilderness also heavily influenced the future writings of James Fenimore Cooper. Eventually, the fledgling community became well established and flourished.
William Cooper died in 1809 and was buried in Christ Church Cemetery. In 1851, James Fenimore Cooper was laid to rest only a few feet from his father. If you happen to find yourself in Cooperstown visiting one of the area’s many attractions, like the Hall of Fame or the Farmers Museum, try to set aside some time to make your own detour off the beaten path and visit the final resting place of these historical figures from Cooperstown’s past.
Shane Johnson is a producer for WSKG’s History & Heritage team. Before arriving at WSKG, Shane earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema and History, Master’s Degree in History, as well as his Master’s of Arts in Teaching in Social Studies Adolescence Education from Binghamton University. He has a personal interest in 19th Century American history, especially the Civil War, and as a young lad, he dreamed of becoming a railroad engineer.