Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame


May 24, 2012

In These Otsego Hills: Still more from 1986

Early August found us asking the question, “Does anyone know  when Edgewater was builtand by whom?” The answer, much of which came from Ralph Birdsall’s history of the village, appeared in the Aug. 13 column as follows:

“Edgewater, the large brick house on Lake Street between Fair and Pioneer Streets, was built between 1810 and 1813 by Isaac Cooper, second son of William Cooper. Isaac Cooper and  his wife, the former May AnnMorris daughter of General Jacob Morris of Morris, New York, moved into Edgewater on December 4, 1813. Isaac Cooper died on January 1, 1818 and in 1823 his family sold Edgewater to a company which attempted to form a girls’ seminary. This school was a failure and in 1834 Edgewater was again sold, this time to Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Keese of New York City, who planned to use the place as a summer residence. Mrs. Keese was the eldest daughter of George Pomeroy and Ann Cooper, daughter of William Cooper and sister of Isaac Cooper, and was thus Isaac’s niece.

“In 1836 Mr. and Mrs. Keese and their eight year old son, George Pomeroy Keese, came to live permanently at Edgewater. There George Pomeroy Keese, who became one of the village’s distinguished citizens, lived there for the next 74 years. There in 1849 he brought his bride Caroline Adriance Foote, and there in 1909 George and Caroline celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.”

On Aug. 20 we asked two historical questions, namely, “Does anyone remember where the Cooperstown Frozen Food Locker was located?” and “Who was Randolph Sommerville and what was his contribution to this area?” The answers to both questions appeared in the Sept. 3 edition of the column as follows: “We thank all of you who responded to our historical questions of two weeks ago.

Alice Rathbun, Katherine B. Haynor and Rose Thayer as well as others recalled the Cooperstown Frozen Food Locker was located where Smith Ford now is. [It should be noted that in 1986 Smith Ford was located at 10 Chestnut Street, not south of the village on Route 28 where it currently is located.] Mrs. Hanor remembers that her family rented two compartments at the locker because they did much of their own butchering and had no freezer at home. Actually we suspect that home freezers were not common items then and so the need for facilities such as the Frozen Food Locker developed. We have a few vague recollections of being in the locker before Mr. Harry Smith opened Smith Ford in that location in November of 1957.

“And who was Randolph Sommerville? Professor Randolph Sommerville was head of the Drama Department at New York University and director of the Washington Square Players as well as a native of the Town of Maryland.

He purchased the property known as Pierson Terrace, located about 8 miles from the village on the West Lake Road (Rt 80) in June 1936. There he created the Duke’s Oak, an outdoor theater where his players could perform the plays of Shakespeare during the summer months.

“Indeed, the name Duke’s Oak is itself Shakespearean and refers to the line in A Mid Summer’s Night Dream --- “At the Duke’s Oak we meet.”

(Act I Scene 2) Katherine B. Hanor attended many of the productions Sommerville gave and remembers that the audience sat on benches facing a wooded knoll where entrances and exits had been recreated through the trees. Mrs. Hanor recalls that a full moon added to the spotlights placed in trees, enhances an already beautiful setting. Eventually a theater building was established.

“Professor Sommerville ceased theatrical operation in 1942 but re-opened the Duke’s Oak in 1947. In 1957 he sold the business to two of his performers, Henry Beckman and his wife Cheryl Maxwell. Henry Beekman is still occasionally seen on various TV shows. In 1959 the Beckmans sold the theater to Dorothy Shay, the “Park Avenue Hillbilly,” and her partner JoAnne Miller, who eventually purchased the business and ran it until 1971 when the theater was destroyed by fire. Currently the big house on the property is being renovated and will be used by the Glimmerglass Opera.

“Many in the area will no doubt also remember Mary Ann Dentler, noted director and talented actress, who spent many years at the Duke’s Oak not only working for Sommerville, but for all his successors as well.

“Ed Walsh, Walnut Street, was kind enough to share with us his special memories of Professor Sommerville who was an integral part of Ed’s teenage life. It seems  that Sommerville spent hisvacations with his sister in Mohawk, New York where, during his visits, she organized a baseball team and a basketball team for the young people, one of whom was Ed. Professor Sommerville, using his own money, provided uniforms and transportation for his teams and set about arranging playing schedules.

Ed notes that several baseball games were played against teams from Cooperstown coached by none other than Red Bursey. Ed adds that during these years Professor Sommerville had two nicknames --- one was “sombro” because of the large hat he wore for sun protection and the other was “Duke.” Therefore the name of the theater was doubly appropriate!”

And finally for this week, we asked on Sept. 10 where the Thanksgiving Hospital was originally located? We then added, “be careful! This is definitely a trick question.” We received the correct answer in time for the Sept. 17 column when we wrote:

“Village history buffs are well aware that the Thanksgiving Hospital was built in 1894 on Grove Street and that those buildings presently house the Clara Welch Thanksgiving Home which opened as such in November of 1927.

But, as Bob Ballard called to tell us, the original Thanksgiving Hospital was located in the building which is now a double house located at 47/49 Elm Street. Bob lived there once and he remembers that at that time the basement of the house in many ways still reflected its hospital past.”

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