The Daily Star
---- — There were considerable rumbling and crashing sounds coming from the lower section of Susquehanna Avenue in Cooperstown 30 years ago this week. Workers on bulldozers were tearing down the 40-room Iroquois Mansion, in order to make way for the present Clark Sports Center.
The mansion dated back to the 1820s and for many years was the home to Mr. and Mrs. F. Ambrose Clark. Mr. Clark passed away in March 1964. Augusta Clark had more recently passed away in 1981. Ambrose married Augusta in 1952, after his first wife, Florence, had died in 1950.
Ambrose Clark had inherited the nucleus of the Iroquois Farm when he turned 21 years old in 1902 and over the years built it into a highly diversified agricultural enterprise spread over 2,200 rolling acres. Ambrose and his three brothers had each inherited a portion of their father Alfred Corning Clark’s business and fortune. Alfred had inherited the Singer Manufacturing Co. from his father, Edward Clark. From 1851-1863 Edward Clark was a business partner with Isaac Merritt Singer, and after Singer’s death, Clark became president of the growing company.
Including the mansion, Ambrose Clark developed the Iroquois Farm into one of the leading showplaces for agriculture in the state. He was a lifelong devotee of thoroughbred horse racing and was for many years an international leader in the sport. He maintained one of the nation’s top racing stables, but had disposed of it in an auction in 1963. In addition to this home in Cooperstown, Clark maintained homes in Westbury, N.Y. and Aiken, S.C.
With the mansion unoccupied in the early 1980s, an auction attracted 1,250 buyers here on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 1982. The two-day event had receipts of over $787,000. On the block that first day were 620 lots of American, English and Continental objects of art; furniture; bronzes; watercolors; paintings; reprints and drawings of sporting interest; oriental rugs and carpets; silver and plate; pottery and porcelain and English and Continental glass, according to The Daily Star.
On Monday, May 23, 1983, the Clark Foundation unveiled plans for a new, $7-million Alfred Corning Clark Gymnasium, to be built on the Iroquois Farm tract. At a meeting held at the village library building, about 125 residents learned that the mansion would “probably be razed.” This became a certainty during the week of Nov. 10, 1983. There had been hopes that the mansion could be saved, but according to The Daily Star of Saturday, Oct. 29, “Foundation officials said they were open to suggestions for its possible use, but that several ideas already had been considered and were found to be unfeasible.”
For local sports and fitness enthusiasts the new gym was set to be completed in about three years, and would be a 63,700 square foot structure, compared to the 18,300 square foot gymnasium then found on Main Street and Cooper Park, which was opened in September 1930. It is now a part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Alfred Corning Clark had opened a gymnasium on this same site in February 1891 on what was then occupied by a marble yard and engine shop.
The actual opening of the new Alfred Corning Clark Gymnasium took place on Monday, Oct. 27, 1986, following a formal opening on Sunday, Oct. 5.
The Clark Foundation decided in June 1994 that a more modern name should represent the gymnasium’s broadening scope of activities, and the name of The Clark Sports Center was adopted.
This weekend, IBM thrived during the Great Depression.
Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.