Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

Baraena Park, forgotten destination


A forgotten day-trip destination was Barena (Baerena) Park, on an island in the Hudson River just south of Coeymans, a mere 12 miles south of Albany.

John N. Briggs, who operated ice plants along the Hudson and a coal business in Albany (and who later started the Atlantic Light & Power Company, which provided power to Coeymans, Ravena and New Baltimore), developed the island as a picnic area in 1879. In 1891 he renamed Barren (Baeren) Island Baerena Park. The park included docks, a covered dance platform, a Ferris wheel (from 1893), merry-go-round, refreshments and an observation tower. It was widely touted as one of the most pleasant destinations on the Hudson.

barena park 1891barena park tintype

Baerena Park became immensely popular as a location for Sunday School picnics, church outings, fraternal organization parties, and just about any group excursion. Tug-drawn barges with such names as “Harvest Queen” (conveniently operated by Mr. Briggs) and “Empress” would depart from Albany, Troy, Catskill and Poughkeepsie. Locals would access the park via a steamboat ferry from Coeymans Landing.

barena park harvest queen

A 1930 fire destroyed most of the principal buildings, including the dance pavilion, ladies lounge, and shooting gallery. The park never fully recovered, and some years later it became inaccessible from the river when the Hudson was deepened. It was still reachable by land from the west until around 1968, when the access road was closed.

barena park 1950

The island had a history, in 1643 Patroon Killian Van Rensselaer erected a fort (The “Castle of Rensselaerstein”) and trading house here, to exclude private traders and exact a toll from all vessels not belonging to the West India Company. Toll evaders took their chances of being sunk by cannon fire.

Thanks to the Bath-On-Hudson blog for the barge image. Additional information, including corrections or images, would be appreciated.

7 Responses to “Baraena Park, forgotten destination”

  1. Kevin Franklin

    Thanks for the great information about Baerena Park! Now I know where two of the old photos of the Knapp family photos (Colonie) were taken! I would be happy to share them with this web page, but I’m not sure how to post them.

    • alcue

      That would be great, Kevin. My email is alcue1@gmail.com. I co-moderate a FB group called Albany…The Way It Was, and started a similar private group devoted more to history than nostalgia, called Assiduity. You’re welcome to join either/both. I’ve been meaning to introduce myself to you anyway, we’ve discussed a lot of Colonie things, and I’m always interested in digging up more images and the like.

  2. Nicholas Diacetis Jr.

    1970 parts of the tower were still laying in the marsh, we also found an assortment of broken white clay pipes, the one pipe that was 80% whole was given to our P.B. Coeymans elementary school teacher as he was a pipe smoker.

  3. Melissa Rice

    A couple years ago, I was given a large frame with many race ribbons and a picture of my great-grandfather. Many were earned at Baerena Park. It was very cool just to see a little bit of the past.

  4. Keith Bennett

    Went there often as a kid, late 1950-1960’s. Remember climbing the remnants of the tower. My grandfather was supposed to have owned a part of the island at one time in the 1930’s or 1940’s, he had a boat house in the bay to the south of the island, ( outlet of Coeymans Creek), where he kept his first cabin cruiser. The boat house went down the river one Spring, never to be seen again. I have a photo or two somewheres of it. The cement footings of the tower are still there as of a few years ago. Never new of the dance hall and other things, would love to know where they were located on the island, now a penninula where the Coeymans sewer plant is located. Barren Island became a peninsula when the river was dredged and they put the dredged fill between the island and the main land. Who owns Barren Island now?


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