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.
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.
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.
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.