To unknowing tourists seeking information from the tourism information center at 31 Chestnut St. in Cooperstown, they would probably believe that the mid-19th century cottage had always been on that site. It blends in well with some of the grand old houses along that street, and the same tourists might think it has an interesting history behind it.
They would be correct about the history of the building, but some longtime village residents can probably remember watching the Higgins Cottage being moved by truck from its original Lake Street site to 31 Chestnut St. in December 1988.
The Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce had received a state grant in March 1988 to preserve the cottage, then found at 131 Lake St., near today’s Farmers’ Museum and the Otsego County Cornell Cooperative Extension office. The plan was to move the cottage to Chestnut Street, to replace a modern building that didn’t blend in especially well with the landscape and had become too small.
The cottage almost met its demise in mid-1980s, when the owners, the Leatherstocking Corp. had gotten permission from the Cooperstown Village Planning Board to demolish it. The Village Board, however, rejected the plan, so the cottage survived and remained vacant for a time.
Otto and Florence Higgins had passed away in 1985 after nearly 30 years of occupying the cottage, believed to be one of the few remaining tenant buildings in Otsego County. Structures of its kind were common for use by farm laborers in the 19th century.
The cottage dates back to 1856, built by William McGhay, a stonemason who had moved to the U.S. from Ireland and brought his family to the area at the same time. McGhay built the home for his wife Jane and five children.
McGhay built the cottage on what was then a major highway, a plank road, built by a group of investors in 1850. It connected Cooperstown with Fort Plain, where connections could be made to Albany. By 1855 the highway boasted a thriving stagecoach business operated by A.A. Kendall and Co.