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

Albany Winter Sports – 18th Century Edition; Sledding down State St. Hill

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The best description of winter sports in Albany in the late 1700s comes from “Memoirs of American Lady” by Scotswoman Anne MacVicar Grant. She came to live in North America with her soldier father when she was a young girl. She ended up residing much of the time with Madame Margarita Schuyler (Philip Schuyler was one of her many nephews) on the southeast corner of State and Pearl in the 1760s.

Ice skating and driving horse drawn sleighs* across the Hudson were typical diversions. But in her book she describes sledding down State St. hill as a particular Albany amusement (we assume driven by the topography of the city).

41815839674_d6bd718483_bWe imagine her peering out the window of her home with Mrs. Schuyler as young men “flew” down the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

“In winter, the river (the Hudson), frozen to a great depth, formed the principal road through the country, and was the scene of all those amusements of skating, and sledge races, common to the north of Europe. They used, in great parties, to visit their friends at a distance, and having an excellent and hardy breed of horses, flew from place to place, over the snow and ice, in these sledges, with incredible rapidity, stopping a little while at every house they came to, and always well received, whether acquainted with the owners or not. The night never impeded these travellers, for the atmosphere was so pure and serene, and the snow so reflected the moon and star-light, that the nights exceeded the days in beauty.

18th century dutch sled

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14250938597_61e070eee1_bIn town, all the boys were extravagantly fond of a diversion that to us would appear a very odd and childish one. The great street of the town (today we know it as State St., in the midst of which, stood all the churches and public buildings, sloped down from the hill on which the fort stood, towards the river: between the buildings was an unpaved carriage-road, the footpath, beside the houses, being the only part of the street which was paved. In winter, this sloping descent, continued for more than a quarter of a mile, acquiring firmness from the frost, and became extremely slippery.

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Every boy and youth in town, from eight to eighteen, had a little, low sledge, made with a rope like a bridle to the front, by which it could be dragged after one by the hand. On this, one or two, at most, could sit—and this sloping descent, being made as smooth as a looking-glass, by sliders, sledges, &c., perhaps a hundred at once set out in succession from the top of this street, each seated in his little sledge, with the rope in his hand, which drawn to the right or left, served to guide him. He pushed it off with a little stick, as one would launch a boat; and then, with the most astonishing velocity, the little machine glided past, and was at the lower end of the street in an instant. What could be so peculiarly delightful in this rapid and smooth descent, I could never discover—though in a more retired place, and on a smaller scale, I have tried the amusement: but to a young Albanian, sleighing, as he called it, was one of the first joys of life, though attended with the drawback of walking to the top.

An unskillful Phaeton (sledder) was sure to fall. The conveyance was so low, that a fall was attended with little danger, yet with much disgrace, for an universal laugh from all sides, assailed the fallen charioteer. This laugh was from a very full chorus, for the constant and rapid succession of this procession, where everyone had a brother, lover, or kinsman, brought all the young people in town to the porticos, where they used to sit, wrapped in furs, till ten or eleven at night, engrossed by this delectable spectacle.

What magical attraction it could possibly have, I never could find out; but I have known an Albanian, after residing some years in Britain, and becoming a polished, fine gentleman, join the sport, and slide down with the rest. Perhaps, after all our laborious refinements in amusement, being easily pleased is one of the great secrets of happiness, as far as it is attainable in this “frail and feverish being.”

*James Fenimore Cooper describes a particularly fraught and sort of terrifying horse drawn sleigh ride over the Hudson in his novel “Satanstoe” ‘, set in the late 1750s, in which he drew heavily on descriptions of Albany from Mrs. Grant’s “Memoirs”.

Samuel Schuyler – Afro-American Riverboat Captain

Samuel Schuyler was born in 1781, but very little is known of his early life, though it has been speculated that he was related to THE Albany Schuylers,.

Like many other African-Americans of his era, Samuel began his working life as a laborer on Quay Street, along Albany’s thriving waterfront. By 1810, he had his own boat to haul lumber, produce, and other goods. He would expand his business interest to real estate, owning a substantial number of lots along South Pearl Street and adjoining streets.

Sometime prior to 1805, he married Mary Martin-Morin; the couple would have eleven children. Several sons would join him in business, as partners in a flour and feed store and, later, they would establish the Schuyler Towboat Company. His oldest son and namesake owned the large house at the corner of Ash Grove and Trinity Place; it was the younger Schuyler who added the distinctive cupola with fine views of the Hudson River, the primary source of the family’s fortune.

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The elder Captain Schuyler died in 1842 and was buried at the Albany Rural Cemetery. An anchor carved on his monument does double duty a symbol of faith and hope and a nod to his career.

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It’s interesting to note that, when his son and namesake died in 1894, the New York Times obituary made no mention of the family’s African-American heritage and referred to his ancestors as “the early Dutch settlers of Albany.”

The End of the Albany Basin

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Somewhere around 1949, the Albany Yacht Club buildings were sold for use as a Naval Reserve Center, and the club started its move across the river to Rensselaer, with a temporary stop in the old Day Line facilities. By the mid-1940s the ice in the Hudson had taken its toll on the  Club pier and the municipal pier.

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3 (2)In 1954, the old basin would finally be filled in as work began on the riverfront arterial highway – I-787. On Nov. 9, 1954, workers started “with the preliminary task of tearing down the old Hudson River Day Line shed, an Albany landmark since the late 19th Century. Between now and next November, when the job is scheduled for completion, the contractor will fill in the old Albany Yacht Club basin for a 1,000-car municipal parking lot and build a ¾ mile stretch of four-lane concrete roadway from a point near the old Day Line landing north to the Livingston Ave. railroad bridge.”

As with all things Albany, the inconvenience for parking was a concern:

“The demolition and construction work will be a source of woe for scores of riverfront parkers, who will have to find somewhere else to leave their cars. Some of the cars that had been left near the Day Line shed today had to be moved by police for safety when the wreckers attacked the ancient ironwork with acetylene torches.”

The construction would involve razing buildings and building a stone dike in the river to straighten the shoreline from “the Quay st. bulge at Steamboat Sq. to the old Yacht Club pier, now occupied by the U.S. Navy as a Naval Reserve training center. The section between the present shoreline and the dike will be filled with stone and graded for parking space. At the same time the contractor will extend three city sewers, whose outfalls will have to be moved toward the middle of the river before grading for the roadway can begin.”

Those included the Columbia St. sewer, “which carries much of Albany’s rainstorm runoff from the downtown section,” and the Quackenbush sewer, near the north end of the project.

From a January 20, 2017 blog post  by  Carl Johnson  in Hoxsie.org  

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The Fascinating History of the Livingston Avenue Bridge- Local Politics and a National Fortune

The Livingston Avenue Bridge is the graceful and anachronistic swing bridge that carries trains across the Hudson River at Albany and still swings open to let larger ships reach Troy. The account of how the Bridge came to be built is fascinating, as it relates to how things get done in Albany and the role it played in American history.

The earliest bridge across the Hudson, at Waterford, was completed in 1804, by Theodore Burr, but the bridge was far from the population centers of Albany and Troy. NYS legislation was introduced in 1814 to provide a bridge near Albany, but Troy objected, believing it would obstruct navigation to Troy. Over 50 years, during which the Erie Canal opened and railroads were invented, squabbles over the bridge and its location continued. Meanwhile, people crossed the Hudson River by ferry boat. (That’s why there are North and South Ferry streets in Albany.) Even Lincoln’s funeral train car came across from Rensselaer to Albany by boat.

After decades the Hudson River Bridge Company was finally incorporated in 1856 for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a railroad bridge from Albany to the opposite shore. The bridge was to be set at least 25 feet above the common tide, “so as to allow under it the free passage of canal-boats and barges without masts, with a draw of sufficient width to admit the free passage of the largest vessels navigating the river.” (The “draw” is the bridge section that moves.)

But bridge opponents didn’t give up. A lawsuit seeking to restrain the Company reached the U.S. Supreme Court. And as late as March 8, 1864, a legislative amendment proposing to reduce the width of the draw was taken up in the state Senate, the subject of a speech by longtime opponent Major General Daniel E. Sickles, a legend of a man.*

done12725025884_1b811a83bf_bEnter titan of the Gilded Age, Cornelius Vanderbilt (a/k/a The Commodore). At the start of the Civil War Vanderbilt realized that a transcontinental railroad would slash travel time from coast-to-coast by months and understood the importance of railroads when the War ended. He sold most of his shipping interests to invest in railroad lines, including the Hudson River Railroad line, controlled by Erastus Corning, great grandfather of Albany’s long term Mayor Erastus Corning II. The bridge was finally built.

The first engine, the Augustus Schell, passed over the bridge on February 18, 1866. Passenger trains started using it on February 22. The bridge had no particular name (and no need for one, being the only bridge). It spanned 1,953 feet, with a draw 257 feet wide — and cost $750,000, a nifty 50 percent overrun from its allocation of a decade earlier.

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Now Vanderbilt made his move. It was brilliant. He owned the only bridge across the Hudson, leading in and out of New York City – the gateway to the country’s largest port. He cut off the bridge to rival railroad traffic. Without the bridge, every other railroad was shut out of NYC, Before their stocks become worthless, the rival rail road presidents try to sell their shares. When Wall Street realizes, there’s a massive sell off. And when the price fell, Vanderbilt buys their stock for pennies. In just days, he creates the largest single railroad company in America which was to become the New York Central Railroad, controlling 40% of the nation’s rail lines. (When Vanderbilt died he was the worth about $200 billion in today’s dollars, making him the richest man in America at the time.)

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And STILL there was wrangling over the Bridge. A NYS law passed in 1868 directing the bridge company to build a new bridge and to demolish the previous bridge as soon as possible. If it did not do so, Albany or Troy had the right to do so and bill the company. Something must have changed by 1869, however, as another act authorizing a new bridge was passed. The Upper or North Bridge remained and was joined by another bridge at the foot of Maiden Lane in Albany, which opened 1871. Less than a year after that, in October 1872, the Union Depot opened. (The “new” Union Station that stands on that spot was constructed in 1899.)

 

10111048343_aca0ecfb65_bdone Upper hudson Bridge 1891

Edone 16923486288_16cbcb2046_bventually the two bridges were given specific assignments: the lower bridge, the Maiden Lane Railroad Bridge (demolished c 1971), with its easier access to the Depot, carried passengers: the upper bridge carried freight and foot traffic (at two cents a crossing). It skirted Arbor Hill and allowed trains to barrel through Tivoli Hollow to destinations in the west.

 

There are claims that the Upper Bridge, which eventually came to be known as the Livingston Avenue Bridge (for the adjacent street that then ran all the way to the waterfront), dates to the 1866. Not exactly; the superstructure is from 1901. A letter in The Bridgemen’s Magazine in July, 1902, indicated that:

“The A.B. [American Bridge] Co. are making fine progress with the Livingston avenue bridge across the Hudson. The last through span has been riveted up and there remains but seven girder spans to go in on this contract, besides the draw, which will be placed in position after the close of navigation.”

It’s not clear if the limestone piers from the original bridge were maintained, or perhaps reduced in number; through filling, the river is now considerably less wide and the bridge appears to have only eight or nine piers. But the current piers look so much like those of its predecessor it’s quite likely the piers are original

FYI – a third span across the Hudson, the Greenbush Bridge, was constructed in 1882 by a private company that initially charged a toll. That Bridge was replaced by the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1933, named after World War I Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Parker Dunn, from Albany. That was demolished in 1971, following the completion of the current bridge of the same name in circa 1968.

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*Sickles was a very interesting and notorious guy with a penchant for the ladies. He served in the NYS Senate and U.S. Congress. While in Congress he killed Francis Scott Key’s son in a love triangle and invented, with attorney Edwin Stanton, the temporary insanity defense. He went on to serve in the Civil War, lost a leg and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Gettysburg. A very full life.

Thanks to Carl Johnson and his post in Alloveralbany.com from 2011 for much of the information included here.