From Pleasure Island to Mid-City: Albany’s Lost Amusement Parks

It all started in 1882 when the Albany-Troy (Al-Tro) Steamboat Company purchased part of an island in the Hudson River, north of Albany, to open a picnic grove. The populations in both cities were growing, densely packed around a central core. Factories belched black smoke and ash. In the summer it was hot and steamy. People left their tenement houses to sleep on the roof. They needed an escape.

Pleasure Island
Pleasure Island provided that escape. The area became an Island when it was separated from the shore by the Erie Canal, just above the Albany city line in North Albany. The “Troy Daily Times” called Pleasure Island a “beautiful and romantic spot”. It was lined with trees and a breeze drifted from the River. Steamers with orchestras left the docks in both cities for the short trip to the Island. It soon became the go-to spot of baseball games, sports field days and small boat races around the Island. There were improvements over the years – a refreshment stand, a small theater, a dance hall, and frequent fireworks displays. There were special concerts and balloon ascensions.

But by the late 1890s there was competition – from other parks created by transportation companies – the Day Line ran boats down to Kingston Point, site of a vast park with swimming and dancing, The Albany and Hudson Electric Railroad created Electric Park in Kinderhook and there was the Adirondack Amusement Park on Sacandaga Lake.

Lagoon Island/Dreamland
And so the owner of the Al-Tro Co. (and Pleasure Island) created the Lagoon Island park in 1897 in the same location. Larger structures were built, rides added, there were bike races, more concerts, more dancing, FREE vaudeville, and sliding chutes into the River

The park changed hands for one year in 1905 under the name Dreamland about a year. And then the park went through yet another makeover.

Al-Tro (“Fairyland on the Hudson”)
The cities had begun to expand into what had been country. People were buying “villas” in Pine Hills. In Albany Beaver Park had been created and was on its way to becoming Lincoln Park. Competition became fiercer. People were traveling more. With electric trolleys people could get everywhere faster and automobiles allowed people to get to lakes and other areas around the city they couldn’t reach before.

Enter entrepreneur Max Rosen with a dream and wads of cash. He purchased Lagoon Island and re-made it. Al-Tro Park opened in 1906. It had an almost 1,000 ft. boardwalk (take that Atlantic City), rides, a large theater, a miniature railroad, a pony track – all tricked out with thousands of electric lights. It was designed to rival Luna Park, the heart of Coney Island, which opened in 1903 and had already become the stuff of legend.

Unlike many other amusement parks and groves Al-Tro sold liquor and despite its own police force there were reports of pickpockets and “Thugs”. It sort of had a wee bit of a bad rep.

Maple Beach Park/Midway Beach
After the 1908 season Max sold Al-tro Park (he owned several other amusement parks across the country) and the site became Maple Beach Park by 1910. The new owners doubled the size, banned booze, and attractions were added; the Park was bigger and better -still packing in large crowds. Tragedy struck in 1913. Fire broke out and when it was over there was nothing left.

It was re-built by new owners under the name Midway Beach Park, albeit on a smaller scale, but with the “largest dance hall in New York State”, in time to open for part the 1914 season. It continued to thrive, even during World War I when the Park broke attendance records in 1918.

Mid -City Park
But there was competition across the way, on the Albany-Troy Rd. (Broadway) when the Mid-City Amusement Park was established in 1920. Mid-City had a huge roller coaster, carnival like games, pony rides, vaudeville acts, acrobats, a merry go round and other rides, roller skating. It wasn’t subject to the vagaries of the weather. There was even an ice skating rink. By 1922 Mid-Way Beach was gone, the land sold – it simply couldn’t compete. In 1926 Mid-City installed a huge swimming pool, the likes of which no one had seen around here. (The Lincoln Park Pool wouldn’t be built until 1930.)

World War II pretty much did in the Mid-city amusement park, but the pool stayed open until 1959 when the land was sold for a shopping center. (There were proceedings lodged against the owner by New York State for refusing admittance to African-Americans.)

(Thanks to Kevin Franklin, Colonie Town Historian, for helping me sort out who owned what when, and thanks to Jamie McDonald for many of the Mid-City Photos.)

Julie O’Connor

Baerena Park, forgotten Albany destination

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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. (It was originally Barent’s Island, named after Barent Pietersen Coeymans who held the original patent dating back to the 1600s.)

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7John 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 (with a band and or pianist), a Ferris wheel (from 1893), merry-go-round, refreshments, rustic tables and benches for those who brought pic-nic baskets and an observation tower. It was widely touted as one of the most pleasant destinations on the Hudson.

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4Baerena 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), “The Andrew M. Church, and the “Empress” would depart from Albany, Troy, Catskill and Poughkeepsie. Locals would access the park via a steamboat ferry from Coeymans Landing.

 

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The Park began to lose its luster in 1914 after a near riot broke out, as a young man “Fink” without a return ticket tried to board the “Empress”. Other hooligans in his gang then attempted to do the same. According to a report in the “Times Union” a deputy sheriff pulled his revolver and started shooting towards the ground to quell the melee. A member of the excursion group, the Maenner Society (a large German-American singing society), snatched the gun and started shooting at the aggressors, wounding one in the leg. (Apparently this followed a fight earlier during the day between members of the Sheridan Avenue and South End rival gangs.)

World War I put a damper on the Park, but the Baerena limped along – the site of occasional excursions.

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.

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By Al Quaglieri – from his Albany blog  Doc Circe Died for Our Sins