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In These Otsego Hills

August 2, 2012

History here, there and everywhere

This week we are most pleased to be able to share a picture of the old Cooperstown Union and Free School. Cooperstown native, Elena Dickison, who now resides in Milford, was kind enough to lend us this picture so we could use it in the column. We suspect there is no one still alive who remembers this structure when it was used as a school. However, since the building was not torn down until 1939, there must be those who remember the building when it was used as an apartment house.

According to the History of Cooperstown by Cooper, Shaw, Littell and Hollis, the building was built on Susquehanna Avenue in 1868 at a cost of $14,000. A $4,000 addition was added in 1881 when enrollment at the school hit a new high of 426 students, just a bit under half of the number of students at CCS today. And it must be remembered that in 1881 there were many other local schools in the area. Plus, the current school district was not centralized until 1944 when, according to the History of Cooperstown, “By a margin of 397 to 98, residents of 19 school districts in the towns of Otsego, Middlefield and Hartwick, including the Cooperstown Union and Free District, voted to form a Centralized District.” Thus we assume that the enrollment of 426 students came, for the most part, from the village itself.

The building was no longer used as a school when the new Cooperstown Union and Free School opened in January 1908 on Chestnut Street where the Cooper Lane Apartments are currently. At that time the building on Susquehanna Avenue was sold for $4,600 to W. J. Aston. We believe that the building was converted to an apartment house after that. In fact, we seem to recall having seen a picture of it with laundry hanging out to dry on the fire escape.

Then, in July 1939, the building was purchased by W. T. Sampson Smith for $1,150. Mr. Smith subsequently tore down the building and built the eight-unit housing development known as Old School Court. We hasten to point out that like the Susquehanna Avenue school building, which was razed to make way for housing, the school, which opened in 1908 on Chestnut Street was razed in 1970 to make way for the Cooper Lane Apartments.  Thus we conclude that in the village there is a pattern of using former school property for residential housing. Dare we hope that when the current elementary school, which opened in 1955 on Walnut Street, has reached the end of its usefulness as a school, it will make way for what we hope might be handicapped housing, possibly condos, for retired residents of the area?  We thank Elena for sharing her photograph and giving us a chance to use the past to muse on the future.

We also have learned more about the Pappas family which we mentioned in this column several weeks ago. We received an e-mail from Nancy Smalley of Hartwick, who was inspired to research the family online by checking the 1915 New York State Census. There she discovered that “Head of Household, George was 47 in 1915, his wife, Stamatoula, was 42. Their children: James-24, Theodore-18, Harry-15, Vassaliki-12 and Katherine-4. All but baby Katherine were born in Greece.” Nancy also noted that the length of time the various family members had been in the USA was interesting. She discovered that “... for length of presence in US, George said 12 yrs, wife 6, James 12, Theodore, Harry and Vassaliki all 7, and Katherine her whole 4 yrs. What does that tell of who came when?? The kids all came before mom, with the exception of the baby, who, obviously happened after mom finally got here!!”

We also realize that in our original column about the Pappas family and the sign in the basement at 81 Main Street, we neglected to mention that we were asked about the family and the sign by Cooperstown native, Heidi Risley, whose daughter Jenn and son-in-law Todd Howard own the building in question and in which they have recently opened a new store, Cooperstown Classics, which features fine clothing and souvenirs. We thank Heidi for contacting us with her inquiry.

And while not exactly history, we do think the article titled “Café sues Cooperstown over denial of improvements” written by Joe Mahoney for the July 21 edition of The Daily Star is worthy of thought. We must admit that when the village established the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board, a group of unelected people were given a great deal of say as to what property owners may or may not do in the village. And, if we understand this correctly from our reading of the article, the current dispute centers on whether or not the questioned improvements to the All-American Café were actually alterations to the property. We gather that the items in question are in the café for the summer only and will be removed at the end of the tourist season. But, even though they do not seem to be permanent fixtures, the explanation was given that they still needed to receive a “certificate of appropriateness” from the village. We must admit that this gave us pause.

As we look at the location of the All-American café, we tend to think its relationship to the building to which it is attached is not unlike the relationship of our front porch to our house. And while the porch is part of the structure, we would be inclined to think that what we might choose to put on it is not. Yet, if the village feels it can regulate what the All-American Café uses in its outdoor space, should we be concerned that the village can also regulate what we might put in our outdoor space?

Might they be inclined to rule that plastic furniture is not in keeping with the age of our house? Would someone with a real Victorian house, which we hasten to point out ours isn’t, have to use real Victorian wicker furniture on the porch? We would certainly hope that would not be the case.

Likewise, we would like to think that those items at the All-American Café, which are being protested, would not come under the purview of the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board. Quite frankly, it is our opinion that this particular village board has more than enough power over what the taxpayers of the village, be they residential or commercial, can or cannot do. Besides, we often think they seem to be working from a romanticized vision of what Cooperstown actually looked like in its earlier years. Anyone who has seen pictures of the Cooperstown Centennial celebration in 1907 would instantly realize that Main Street as we know it today does not in anyway resemble Main Street as it looked in 1907. And to pretend that this committee is preserving the village as it used to be is ludicrous. It is time for the village to stop declaring war on its citizens and businesses and let those of us who pay heavily into the village coffers live in the 21st century. We are not, nor do we think we want to be, Deerfield or Williamsburg.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments regarding this column may be made by mail at 105 Pioneer Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326, by telephone at 547-8124 or by email at


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In These Otsego Hills
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