Author: Destination Marketing Corporation for Otsego County
Ever wonder why Cooperstown is considered one of America’s favorite hometowns? Maybe ponder instead, WHO makes Cooperstown so special? ...Take a minute to discover The Real MVPs in this series that highlights the owners of your home away from home when visiting Cooperstown and the Otsego County area and the makers of memories. Take a peek behind the curtain at cherished moments and excitable characters who make the story of ‘business as usual’ quite the opposite!
“Tim and Connie Haney closed on the purchase of the Cooperstown Bat Company on April Fools Day, 2008. Since then, they’ve grown from a full-time staff of 5 to 18, and the factory will be celebrating its 40th birthday next year. Tim started as an entry-level employee for Cooperstown Bat Company in 1993, and from there worked his way up the ladder and eventually purchased the company from previous owners, Don and Sharon Oberriter. Both being from Otsego County, Tim & Connie have always been baseball people, but feel like it was just a lucky break to be running this business in the “home of baseball.” Tim currently plays in a local league and has been doing so for 22 years and his son, Sawyer, gets to play in the league with him as well. Now, CBC is making bats from logs starting at their wood mill, Sawyer Ridge Billet Company, right around the corner from the bat factory. Their bats have been in the hands of professional players all over the globe, but they’re still keeping the family atmosphere here in Cooperstown.”
“We pay attention to detail. Whether it's a playing bat going to a high school senior, or a coach’s gift, or a wedding gift, or to play in MLB… we try to bring the same attention to detail to every single bat.”
“Baseball is what draws people to Cooperstown, and then they get to enjoy the other amazing things we have here too. I’m sure a lot of people now will come to enjoy the outdoor recreation, just without baseball, and they might not even know the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is even here… but that’s a very rare person.”
Bill Micheals took over Fly Creek Cider Mill in 1999 from his parents. This business has been kept in the Michaels's family since 1964 when Charlie & Barbara initially purchased it in 1962 primarily for the house on the corner. What started as a custom pressing business, where people could bring their apples to be pressed into cider and later fermented into apple wine or hard cider, has now grown into a must-go Central New York destination with over 150,000 visitors annually. The water hydraulic press used at the mill is the same one that was installed in 1889, and still cranking out gallons after gallons of cider every year. Generations of people have come back to the mill with their families to share the love of cider making as well as sample the abundance of products. Even though the mill has changed over the decades, the heart of the mill is the press and it's still the same.
“Outside we've got a little growth chart on an apple. On our Facebook page we had a lady post all the pictures of her kid growing up, every year they would take a picture when they visited here. And that's what we use social media for, for us to engage those memories we hope those memories become repeat visits.” Bill Michaels
“To us, Induction Weekend is like a family reunion. We have the same guests that come every year and they all know each other... even though they all live in different parts of the country and all have different careers.”
Looking for a change of pace in their lives, Marc & Sherrie Kingsley purchased The Inn at Cooperstown in 2003. This historic inn was built by the famous architect, Henry Hardenbergh, in 1874 and was his first hotel to be built before going on to build The Dakota in New York City. The Inn had gone through many changes throughout its lifetime: as apartments, offices, and even a stand-alone home at one point, but The Inn was built with hotel purposes in mind. Marc & Sherrie aim to bridge the gap between hotel and B&B, offering the comfort and charm of a B&B with a hotel-like structure and amenities. These two host experiences that can fit any interest or hobby. Whether that be baseball, their one of a kind Bed and Brew experience with Brewery Ommegang, or parking your bike in their Big Ring Bicycle clubhouse behind The Inn, Marc & Sherrie will welcome you with smiles as soon as you walk in the door.
“One of my favorite moments is when we have concerts…I'm working so I don't have the chance to sit and really enjoy it, but if I’m just walking through the house... you can hear the music wafting through the halls. It’s so deeply engrained in the house it’s just absorbing it and vibrating.”
Starting out as a Hyde Hall tour guide 4 years ago, John Henry Aborn’s fondness for education led him to pursue a master’s degree in museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program nearly one year ago. Now, he’s soon approaching his 1-year anniversary as Hyde Hall’s Marketing Manager.
During the interview with John, we walked through the house as he regaled in stories of the past and passed through rooms still being restored. We discussed the home’s original inhabitants, the Clarke family, and though his animated tales, I felt as though I was transported back to the early 19th century. We made stops along the way as John pointed out details in the interior and structure. Color palettes and clashing patterns that may look bizarre in the daylight transform as the home lights up in the evening by candles and lanterns. Ceilings from renovations long past stand out from the rest of the home, and John lit a vapor lamp in the dining room to demonstrate how they worked – an entirely foreign concept for those of us accustomed to light switches and electricity. He shared stories of his own personal run-ins with some of the spirits that still lurk their old home, and we took a peek at some of the meticulous records of receipts kept by George Clarke, who commissioned the Hall to be built in the very early 1800s.
This notoriously haunted home, and National Historic Landmark, hosts an array of experiential events. John, as Marketing Manager, continues to expand on creative ways to reach visitors and share the story of Hyde Hall. From concerts to ghost tours, or even an authentic 1830’s dinners, the presence of the Clarke family that once roamed these halls can be felt. Sometimes, quite literally.
“My favorite thing about being here is the number of people that pull up outside and say ‘my god, something told me to come here.’ And we get sitting like you and I are, talking about their past relatives, the history, the history of the town… just the people who come and go ‘I don’t know why I’m here.’”
As you walk through Plaide Palette, located in the charming town of Cherry Valley, you may end up walking out with items you didn’t expect to leave with. With a range of items from rocks and crystals, pendulums, British sodas and candies, coats, and the sculptures of the face of the Green Man, among others, Sue Miller has been running this business for 30 years.
Sue started by painting tartan flags, inspired by her Scottish-Irish heritage, and progressed into ceramic moldings. From wedding cake toppers to Santa Claus, Sue eventually found a market for The Green Man, a symbolic representation of rebirth with the Celtic tradition revolving around the fertility of the land. Although believed to have pagan origins, The Green Man can be found in the architecture of many churches from Ireland all the way to Russia, and now in people’s homes.
In addition to running the Plaide Palette, Sue is also a body dowser and ghost seer, having her dowsing initiation in the 1970s and being a ghost-seer since she was 14. She’s the historian for the town of Cherry Valley and an author of multiple books. She is the author of a ghost book titled "Time Between: the Hauntings of Cherry Valley, New York," a historical photo book titled "A Town Along the Turnpike," and an account of the Cherry Valley Massacre titled "Five Days in November". Her latest novel, “Chasing Sarah,” is a murder-mystery novel, and she has another novel coming out in 2020.
"The first time I did flowers for Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend was so memorable. I could tear up now even because that was a big 'I made it' moment for my career".
Jackie Hull has been surrounded by flowers her whole life. Growing up in her grandmother’s garden where the “rose petals were like velvet and smelled like strawberries” she picked bunches of flowers, much to her grandmother’s exasperation. Jackie went on to join BOCES, a vocational extension of high school, for horticulture where she was first introduced to floral design, and then worked for the local florist as well. After high school, she moved out to California doing a majority of celebrity work such as making arrangements for movie sets and celebrity homes before moving back to Cherry Valley. The local florist had just closed their doors in Cherry Valley around the same time Jackie returned, making it the prime opportunity to open her own shop.
Now, coming up on 30 years of being in business, Jackie tackles multiple weddings every weekend throughout summer & early fall, pulling it off with a hardworking team of just 2 other employees and help from her husband, Brian. In addition to creating arrangements and bouquets for brides and grooms, A Rose is a Rose Florist has been creating the arrangements for the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend for the past 6 years. But, the attention to detail and color coordination Jackie puts into her arrangements isn’t just dedicated to the Hall of Fame or wedding bouquets. Whether for a birthday, anniversary, or just a pick me up, taking home an arrangement from A Rose is a Rose is bound to make a lasting impression, and that’s Jackie’s goal.
"We had a painting class here once. All of the students set up around the farm with their easels, painting the lilacs… It was like a scene out of a French painting to see them here.”
Have you ever taken a backroad, and discovered a hidden gem along the way? That’s how we felt when we stumbled upon Cherry Valley Lilacs. Charle-Pan and her husband Dana, bought the farm in 2014 and have since created workshops, hosted events, and invited local businesses to host classes there as well. But, did you know that this lilac farm is world renown? In 2017 Charle-Pan, a retired chemist, “cracked the code” on making authentic lilac essential oil, and is shipping to perfumers all around the globe. Using an ancient technique called Enfleurage, a French term for an ancient, labor-intensive, and all-but vanished technique in which fat is used to absorb scent from fresh exhaling flowers, Charle-Pan & Dana are the only people in the world doing this on a large scale.
As Charle-Pan and I walked through the garden I could smell the different scents from various lilacs and hear the bees hard at work. The lilac season is only from May to early July and creates a short window for picking the flowers but the process of extracting the oil can take much longer than that and keeps her busy all year. She hosts workshops to teach the art of Enfleurage so others can pass down the process to the next generations. They also sell lilac plants to help carry on the rare varieties the farm has, and so others can enjoy them as well. Charle-Pan hopes to bring happiness to those that visit the farm, and as you’re touring the grounds you are overcome with a sense of calm as you inhale the sweet scents around you, it’s hard to feel anything but happy.
“If I get a young child that I think is a budding train-buff, I know that if I were in their shoes at 5 or 6 years old I would have been over the moon if someone let me go up in the locomotive and toot the train horn! You want to instill that interest in the hobby and history because that kid might be the one who takes over for me when it’s time to pass the baton.”
If you’ve ever driven down Route 28 between Cooperstown and Milford on a hot summer night, it’s not an unusual sight to see the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad chugging along during their weekend Blues Express. Bruce Hodges, president of the Leatherstocking Railway Historical Society, has always been a “train guy” since he was a kid. His involvement with the CCVRR starts with the founding of the Leatherstocking Railway Historical Society in 1982. Starting with the preservation of the Little Red Caboose in Oneonta’s Neahwa Park, progressing into erecting a museum (now their headquarters) in an old Victorian home in Cooperstown Junction, to purchasing the 16-mile short line of Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad in 1996, the Leatherstocking Railway Historical Society has made some major feats in the past 38 years. Through a very dedicated group of close to 300 volunteers, the CCVRR has continued to persevere through financial hardships, floods, or bad weather. Bruce and other historical society members aim to preserve this piece of American history that has slowly started to go by the wayside. They work through the heat to clear out brush and do track work to keep the short line rail in top working order. From the classic Santa Claus Express to staged train robberies, or even Fall Foliage Express, there’s a ride for any occasion. The train can even be chartered for a special event, like a reunion or wedding... Or for Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, when they filmed The Place Beyond the Pines in 2011. Generations of visitors come back every year to enjoy the train’s multiple rides for any season and continue to build memories around the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad.
“Our focus, besides producing Opera, is teaching folks the theater craft. Not just the skills of building a flat or hanging a light or creating a costume, but the teamwork that has to go into putting it all together and the attitude that comes with working in this sort of atmosphere. We’re primarily driven by teaching young folks.”
The curtain sweeps away and the show begins. Music fills the air and you watch the spectacular talent grace the stage at The Glimmerglass Festival but none of it would be possible without the dedicated staff of 350+ technicians, designers, interns, and managers… just to name a few. Abby Rodd and Joel Morain started their careers at The Glimmerglass Festival in the early to mid-1990s as interns. Today, after much dedication, studying, and hard work, Abby is running the production staff as the Director of Production and Joel is the A/V Coordinator. As we talked with Abby and Joel, and wandered around backstage, we discussed how each day brings something new. We saw the staircase built by Joel and crew for The Sound of Music, and he explained how everything they do is never the same as the last time. Whether that be the set designs or even the wigs the actors wear. When standing on stage, if you look up you’ll see 30-40ft long rowing boats hanging from the ceiling. Abby is the president of Otsego Area Rowing as well as an EMT for the Springfield, NY fire department. Joel spoke about his experiences teaching at both Hartwick College and Colgate University, and how now he helps build sets in the offseason. Joel also has spent his downtime creating “intubation boxes” (a clear, overhead shield to help protect medical staff as they intubate a patient) to help fight the spread of COVID-19 amongst patients and medical staff. Both would agree though, that besides meeting each other and later getting married, their favorite part of the job is greeting the new batch of interns that arrive each summer and watching them grow and flourish during their time at The Glimmerglass Festival.
“We’ve really been trying to connect with our local community. There’s a lot of people who still want to take their vacations, and you can’t really go anywhere.. so why not vacation in your own town?”
The building for The Railroad Inn was built in the late 1890s as a feed mill, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the Glimmerglass Historic District. Locals to the area might know it as the old Agway building, but you’d never guess any of that when you take a step into this boutique hotel. When I walked into the lobby to meet with Joe, the front desk manager, and Lillian, one of the housekeepers, I was impressed by how well styled the space was. Beautiful, dark patterned, wallpaper complemented the woodwork done to create a seamlessly stylish place while still being comfortable. The rooms felt personal, comfortable, and clean. Similar to how you would feel walking into a guest room at a friend’s house. Lillian expressed how much she loved the loft rooms, and how perfect they are for families since they feature a winding staircase up to the loft where kids can have a space of their own. Joe was everything you’d want in a front desk manager, being charming and personable to help meet guests’ needs. Some guests have been staying for a longer-term, and he’s picked up on certain things to help make their stay even more enjoyable, like their favorite cereals at breakfast or what juice they like. Joe & Lillian’s dedication and passion for providing a great experience to their guest shows when they talk about the hotel. Whether it’s a bridal party coming in for a wedding, a family looking to explore the town, or Mariano Rivera from the NY Yankees with his own family, they treat every guest with excellent hospitality and a friendly smile.
“The minute that the doors open and the goats run in, it changes the entire vibe in the room. People who might be self-conscious because they’re new to yoga, or experienced yogis being unsure of how it’ll be with goats, suddenly start laughing and aww-ing and forget all of those worries.”
It all started with an urge to escape city life. Sharon and Aldo Boustani purchased the @gilbertsvillefarmhouse in 2005, with intent to make it their summer vacation home for their family while they lived fulltime in Queens. Over the years, the beauty of the farmhouse & Otsego County along with the slower pace of farm living made their way into their hearts, and they planted roots to stay. The farm buildings sat vacant and untouched for years until inspiration struck to turn it into an event venue. In 2014, well before rustic barn weddings were “in,” the Gilbertsville Farmhouse hosted its first event. Then, the goats happened.
In 2017, Sharon and Aldo were given two Nigerian dwarf goats by their children for Christmas. A week later, they bought 3 more to add to the farm. Sharon had heard of Goat Yoga as a new trend out west and played around with the thought of starting it at the farmhouse. After contacting some instructors, a lot of planning, and a test run, (and a chunk of hair being eaten) NY Goat Yoga was born and the first in the state of its kind. Although slow to take off, NY Goat Yoga gained incredible exposure over the first year. They’ve done Goat Yoga with Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones and supermodel/entertainment star Tyra Banks, just to name a few. But don’t let that intimidate you, because Goat Yoga is perfect whether you’ve never stepped foot on a yoga mat or practice every day!
“I love public art because the layperson could come around and say, “What the heck is that?” And it gets their gears turning because the only way to be exposed to that type of art could be to go to a gallery or be invited to some fancy, rich, party. And not everyone has access to that.”
With a childhood dream of becoming a cartoonist, Jay Roth found his love for metal sculpture during his undergraduate studies at SUNY Plattsburgh and his connection with the Gilbertsville Expressive Movement took off before he even earned his degree. With a growing collection of his undergrad work taking over his parent’s house, Jay started by listing his work for sale online. A gentleman in Gilbertsville purchased it for his yard, and it’s still there to this day. That same gentleman invited future G.E.M. founder Barry L. Skolnick to view Jay’s work and later commissioned a piece for him to work on. Jay then went on to graduate school to receive his Masters in Fine Art and came back to Gilbertsville to continue working on sculptures full time. Jay would build small replicas out of cardboard for Barry to review and then would pick one to commission. In 2016, G.E.M. became a non-profit with the mission to promote, support, and educate local artists. With workshops, residency programs, grants, and exhibitions, G.E.M. continues to provide a space for artists to flourish, and space for the public to expand their artistic horizons. The Sculpture Park is open every day and features most of Jay’s sculptures along with sculptures made by visiting artists Jonathan Florence, Julia Sinelkova, and Kelly Cave. So next time you’re itching to head to a gallery, consider taking a stroll through the GEM of the Butternut Valley.
“I think I was born to be a historian. My first word wasn’t mama or dada… it was ‘why?’”
We walked across the street to the post office. A man was walking his dog and waved to Leigh. Another car drove past and they waved as well. “So, do you know everyone in town?” I asked. “Just about.” She answered. Sitting down and talking to Leigh Eckmair was just like opening a history book, but with a lot more personality and hidden stories. Leigh is the historian for the Village of Gilbertsville and Town of Butternuts and ended up in Gilbertsville because of her late husband Frank Eckmair. Don't be surprised if you recognize Frank’s name. Frank was and still is an internationally recognized printmaker, who had an intimate affinity for the quiet landscape of rural central New York, that’s reflected in his work. Leigh gushed over her husband’s accomplishments and listed the several museums around the world his work now lives in. When they came to visit and later live in Frank’s hometown of Gilbertsville, Leigh quickly got involved with a research project to stop a plan that would install 46 dams in Upstate New York - 3 being in and around Gilbertsville, creating a seven-mile-long lake by flooding the entire village and most of the Butternut Valley and 4,000 years of Native American civilization. This, along with the historic architecture, is what made the entire Village of Gilbertsville qualify as a National Historic Landmark. Their work saved the village.
“The fact that we’re still standing and people keep coming back to not only keep us in business but keep the drive-in experience alive is humbling.”
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a time traveler, heading to a drive-in theater is one of the best solutions. In their prime of the 1950s the US had over 4,000 drive-in theaters in operation, but fast forward to 2020 and there’s just over 300 left. New York and Pennsylvania are tied for the most still in operation, both having 27 drive-in theaters still functioning to this day! If you’re visiting us in Otsego County, it’s definitely worth the trip to the Unadilla Drive-In. Spencer Wilson practically grew up in the projection booth when his parents bought the drive-in in 1999. Now he’s the manager, following in the footsteps of his parents and siblings. This summer, new movies are slim pickings as release dates have been rescheduled due to COVID-19. This isn’t stopping the Unadilla Drive-In though, now has been the perfect time to break out some of the “classics” to show on the big screen. Movies like “Footloose,” or the "Jurassic Park" franchise, as well as better-known kid’s movies such as “Shrek” or “Despicable Me.” In addition to providing customers a much-needed escape from home, the Unadilla Drive-In has also been giving back to their community. They’ve been in contact with local schools to offer the drive-in as a venue for socially-distanced graduation ceremonies or proms. And on Sundays, the drive-in has opened its gate to a local church to host their service there. This family-run business is the perfect place for families to get out of their homes for an experience that once seemed lost to time.
“For me, it all started with a farm boy’s dream… to fly.”
Hold onto your seat! We’re visiting the Susquehanna Flight Park. As you make your way down the long gravel driveway, you’ll see a field and small hills as people run with their gliders to practice take off. At the end of the driveway, you’ll reach the clubhouse, where instructors are waiting ready to help you start your hang gliding journey. But, don’t expect to be taking off on your first try! When we met up with Dan Guido, head of the flight park, we chatted about his history in hang gliding. Now a retired dairy farm inspector, Dan has more time to dedicate to his passion for flying. He started taking his first lessons in New Hampshire in 1977 and soon discovered a small community of hang gliders in the Cooperstown area. He partnered with a fellow hang glider, Robert Clark. About 10 years ago, Dan bought Robert’s farm where the flight park now exists. Today, Dan is a master pilot, a certified USHGA instructor, and has taught many students the liberating sport of flying. Unable to leave the ground without proper instruction, Dan described to us the jaw-dropping views that can be seen after takeoff. Believe it or not, the Adirondack, Catskill, and Berkshire Mountains are all visible. The flyer need only shift their gaze. The success of his teachings is evident through the amenities. The Susquehanna Flight Park has been equipped with a classroom, 5 training hills, and a mountain launch. All skill levels are welcome, from beginners to intermediate levels; and anyone with an intermediate license or higher can foot-launch for free. If you’re seriously considering hang gliding, Dan recommends first scoping out some how-to videos, then calling him to schedule your first lesson. Be prepared for a workout and a memory that’ll last a lifetime!
“We have a guest that has stayed with us pretty frequently. She stayed with us for a time over the past winter. She started taking painting classes and decided to paint a photograph she took of the Inn from her stay, then sent it to us. It was so kind that she did that, and we now have it hanging in the Inn."
It started with a phone call. Robin Schneider & her husband, Fred, had only owned the Landmark Inn for about a year when she took a call from the San Francisco Giants. They wanted to know if they’d be able to house a few people from the Giants..and the trophy for winning the World Series. The Inn was packed, and all gathered around as PR reps for the SF Giants wheeled in a footlocker, and took out the Tiffany Blue bag to unveil the Commissioner’s Trophy. But, that’s just one of the many shining moments on the timeline for Landmark Inn’s history. Located just a couple of short blocks from Main Street, Cooperstown, you feel transported when you step onto the grounds. With 2 whole acres of property, the immaculately kept Victorian gardens, and towering 160-year-old maple trees, you’ll feel like you’re in the countryside when you stay at Landmark Inn. Situated on the largest village lot drafted by William Cooper (founder of Cooperstown and father of the novelist, James Fenimore Cooper) this one was a private residence built by J.P. Sill in 1856 and was known as “The Maples” because of these trees. That’s not the only iconic thing about this historic inn. The lion statues that stand guard of the front entrance received an upgrade after the original statues deteriorated past recognition. Now, Tinker & Evers, the second generation of lions, will welcome you when you stay at the Landmark Inn.
Check out the rest of The Real MVPs Series: Part 2 of 2