For most people visiting Cooperstown and learning its history involves a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Farmer’s Museum and the Fennimore House Art Museum. Cooperstown’s history however lies all around in little places not seen by the average tourist.
One such place is located at the end of a River Street where it meets Lake Street and faces out to James Fenimore Cooper’s famed “Glimmerglass, “Otsego Lake and the mouth of a river. The river is the Susquehanna River, a river that meanders its way south, a river that has a very special place in America’s history books.
The little park called Council Rock Park, has a New York State Historical Marker embedded in a stone wall with steps that allow the visitor to descend to the water and a green area where one can sit and enjoy the peaceful view. The marker is for a Dam that was once sat at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and it notes the part it played in the Revolutionary War.
In James Fenimore Coopers novel the “Pioneers” in his opening explanation of the novel, he gives us a lesson in not only history but also the ingenious ways that our Revolutionary War fathers used to help bring the world’s most powerful military force Great Britain to its knees.
Cooper explains that the Dam was placed so that the natural springs that feed Otsego Lake would fill the lake and the dam would hold back the water so as to raise the lakes level. The Susquehanna River had become filled with dead wood and entangled vines, which made passage by boat hard. But the Dam when knocked away would fill the river and allow fast flowing rushing water to carry boats down its length.
And so on August 9th, 1779, James Clinton and 2000 men in 200 Batteaux gathered at the mouth of the river and knocked the dam out allowing them to sail with guns, supplies, and men to a battle that was one of the turning points of the war – the Battle of Newtown. Their swift arrival was no doubt a surprise to the British.
So visit historic Cooperstown and keep an eye open for those little out of the way pieces of history!