The Fenimore Art Museum is the showcase of the New York State Historical Association, which is the not-for-profit corporate entity governing the operations of the museum. The New York State Historical Association was founded in 1899 by New Yorkers who were interested in promoting greater knowledge of the early history of the state. They hoped to encourage original research, to educate general audiences by means of lectures and publications, to mark places of historic interest with tablets or signs, and to start a library and museum to hold manuscripts, paintings, and objects associated with the history of the state.
It was an ambitious undertaking proposed by the founders when they held their first official meeting on March 21, 1899, in the village of Lake George. But time has justified their optimism and the Association has grown dramatically during the intervening century into a successful and multifaceted institution.
In 1926, Horace Moses, another New Yorker interested in the history of the state, donated a permanent home in Ticonderoga, New York for the Association. The structure was a replica of John Hancock's famous house in Boston. In addition to Hancock House, Moses also gave a separate endowment to help run the Association.
In 1939 Stephen Carlton Clark offered the Association a new home in the village of Cooperstown Cooperstown. Clark, an avid collector, took an active interest in expanding the holdings of the Association and in 1944 donated Fenimore House, one of his family's properties, to be used as a new headquarters and museum. The impressive neo-Georgian structure was built in the 1930s on the site of James Fenimore Cooper's early 19th century farmhouse on the shore of Otsego Lake, Cooper's Glimmerglass.
Fenimore House was large enough to have both extensive exhibition galleries as well as office and library space. The collections and programs continued to expand and a separate library building was constructed in 1968. In 1995 a new 18,000 square foot wing was added to Fenimore House to house the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection which is one of the nation's premier collections of American Indian Art. In 1999 in recognition of our world class collections we renamed the Fenimore House Museum to the Fenimore Art Museum.
The New York State Historical Association is a private, non-governmental educational organization. It is closely affiliated with its sister organization, The Farmers' Museum.