Mark Simonson Contributing Writer
---- — Campers coming to the Cooperstown Dreams Park each year not only come to play on fields near a historic setting, they come here to apply and improve upon their baseball skills and work ethic. Long before the Dreams Park came to be, those fields held another function that required a good work ethic, farming.
In mid-July of 1995, The Cooperstown Crier reported, “Budding baseball stars from throughout the United States may soon be flocking to Cooperstown during the summer. At least that is the hope of the developers of a major new baseball camp planned for the town of Hartwick.”
Louis Presutti, Jr. of North Carolina and his son, Louis III, of Rochester presented their plans to the Hartwick Planning Board that month. The park, with a proposed construction budget of nearly $2 million, was planned on a 110-acre lot along the east side of state Route 28. The camp was to be built in phases over the next several years.
Cooperstown Dreams Park opened in late July 1996 with six fields and a small village of bunkhouses, with a short season that brought in about 300 weekly campers. The name came from a dream of Louis Presutti, Sr., who used to bring his family to Cooperstown on vacations, which always included fishing and a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The opening of this camp by Louis Presutti, Jr. made a dream come true for his late father.
The Dreams Park now has 22 baseball fields and attracts 1,500 young baseball players every week for 13 weeks. In recent years, according to figures from The Otsego County Chamber, when adding the players’ families, it amounts to about 60,000 people per year for the region’s hotels, restaurants and local attractions. The camp generates about $26.5 million into the local economy and employs several hundred part-time workers.
Ever since the late 1980s, Cooperstown began to witness what was going on in many other American cities and villages, suburban sprawl. While tourism had always been good in Cooperstown, the village saw a surge around this time, and the visitors wanted and enjoyed their fast food and other conveniences, which were not yet locally available. Village residents vehemently fought chain operations, such as Pizza Hut and McDonald’s from locating within the village borders.
While the village won their battle, areas outside the village and towns of Otsego and Middlefield were more receptive in providing the “extras” the visitors were seeking. The sprawl headed south into the town of Hartwick, in the areas of Index, Hyde Park and Hartwick Seminary on state Route 28. Just prior to the Dreams Park, places such as the Best Western hotel and The Commons shopping center had opened in 1993 and 1994, respectively. The Pizza Hut and McDonald’s that were rejected by Cooperstown also located in this area.
Hartwick Seminary had been a generally quiet community, dotted with farms, and of course the school, which had been founded by John Christopher Hartwick in 1797. The seminary went on to become today’s Hartwick College, relocating to Oneonta in 1928.
Rodney Ingalls, 94, remembers the seminary, as his family moved to that area to set up their farm when he was three years old. They moved from another local farm on Christian Hill Road, south of Fly Creek. Had things worked out differently, the Ingalls might’ve had to relocate again in the late 1920s, as for a short time Hartwick College had considered locating on their fields, where the Dreams Park is now.
The farm today is easily identifiable, with an “Ingall’s Crossing” street sign and the ever-familiar farm stand, always a popular spot for buying corn. The family farm is well known for their produce, but it wasn’t always that way.
“We made maple syrup, cut wood and we were a dairy farm,” Ingalls said. “We had 80 head of Guernsey cows, and we peddled milk in Cooperstown.”
These were days when milk was delivered to homes by the producing dairies. Ingalls claims that Guernsey cows give the best tasting milk of any dairy cow. The Ingalls milk was known as Cloverleaf Farms. The Ingalls’ eventually formed a partnership with several other families in the Cooperstown area, all with Guernsey cows.
The milk business changed in the latter part of the 20th century, with many family farms going under, so the Ingalls had to change what they produced in order to stay in farming.
“I started growing and selling sweet corn,” Ingalls said. “Then came gladiolas. We sold them at the stand, next thing we knew we were delivering them to the area florists from Richfield Springs to Oneonta. My son got us started in strawberries, and we let some people in to pick them and thought we had a good market for this.”
“We tapped into the Susquehanna River, which is at the edge of our property, and got irrigation into the land. From there we went on to melons, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes, and became a much better farm stand. We really enjoyed it. I like to grow things,” Ingalls added.
In addition to the family operating the business, the farm stand and growing the produce provided work and some extra income to a lot of the area’s youngsters, Ingalls said.
“I’m proud of a lot of those kids and my grandkids. Some of them went on to become doctors and other professionals,” he said.
Ingalls has kept in touch with some of them, and both he and many of those successful adults claim that their success was gained by developing a good work ethic by working in those fields.
“They worked until the job got done. They hoed the land, planted, cut and picked the produce — and we worked out there with them. We had a great time working with them. There was no fussin’ around and they had good behavior.”
While the baseball fields now occupy the land, the third generation of the Ingalls family still farms on land nearby, with eight acres planted for blueberries, known as Ingalls’ Blueberry Hill, to be ready by August for picking.