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.)
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 (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.
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), “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.
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.