Jane Forbes Clark: The woman behind Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame - CBS News

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The woman behind Cooperstown's iconic Americana

Fifty-thousand people are expected to celebrate the induction of six legendary names to baseball's Hall of Fame
Fifty-thousand people are expected to celebra... 04:50

Fifty thousand people are expected to pour into Cooperstown, New York this weekend to help celebrate the induction of six legendary names into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

But as CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg reports, the chairman of the Hall has a unique history of her own, and she doesn't even work for the major leagues.

"I hope someday that some of the young fellas coming into the game know what it's like to be a part of the Hall of Fame," said Jane Forbes Clark. She is the Hall's chairman, and granddaughter of its founder, Stephen Carlton Clark.

The Hall, which today includes 50,000-square-feet of memorabilia, began modestly -- with one baseball. The ball is believed to be have been owned by Abner Doubleday, an area resident and Civil War hero who, at the time, was credited with creating America's pastime.

It was Clark's grandfather who got his hands on the ball.

"Family legend has it that he took it home," Jane said, "and my grandmother took one look at this dirty thing and said 'really? No, no, not on my mantelpiece.'"

Baseball fans can thank Clark's grandmother for refusing the dirty ball a place on the mantel, since Cooperstown ultimately wound up with the Hall of Fame -- and an economic engine for the entire community.

"We do draw 300,000 people a year to this village, and our latest numbers show that is worth $500 a head to the Cooperstown economy," said Clark, "not just here at the Hall of Fame, but to the restaurants, to the other business on Main Street."

Clark's business interests and influence in Cooperstown reach well beyond the Hall of Fame. She owns two premium hotels here, including one built by her great grandfather in 1909. There's also a golf course and the local nursing home.

As for the hanging baskets of flowers on Main Street, all 110 of them were provided by the Clark Nursery.

"Some people call Cooperstown 'America's perfect village' and that's because of its main street," Clark said.

Though synonymous with the Hall of Fame, Cooperstown history goes back a lot further. The village was founded by the father of James Fenimore Cooper, who set his classic novel "The Last of The Mohicans" in the area's unspoiled landscape.

"The same natural beauty attracted my family in the mid 1800s and started a 160 (or) 170 year commitment to the preservation, the conservation and the economic stability of the village," Clark said.

Clark never married and is the last descendant of her family in Cooperstown. Raised in Virginia, she spent childhood summers here. Now she's dedicated to sustaining a five generation legacy.

"She is Cooperstown and her family has been for many, many years," said resident Michael Moffat, who runs a local restaurant and marina. "Her whole organization is about making life better for the people of Cooperstown."

The Clark Foundation provided the land, buildings and financial support for two additional Cooperstown museums that have nothing to do with baseball; she even donated the village's first carousel.

But to really see the depth of her family's commitment to the conservation of Cooperstown, look no further than Otsego Lake.

"I grew up on this lake," said Clark. "The Clark Foundation now owns probably 9.5 miles of the east side of the lake -- and with no plans to develop it."

If there were no Jane Clark in Cooperstown, what would happen?

"I think the strength of our legacy is that I am the fifth generation and I don't think Cooperstown is going to have a problem," she told CBS News, speaking like a woman who has already left and indelible impression.

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