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Denning’s Point Musings 12

Another “Blue Pencil” special for some hystorical (sic) fun

            The Denning’s Point trails are closed for the winter to protect the American Bald Eagle foraging, perching and roosting habitat. This winter-time closing is essential if we’re to be environmentally-conscious stewards and coincidentally provides some delightful “down time” for me as a Point tour leader and author-lecturer. You are invited to enjoy the whimsical fruits of my “blue pencil notes” made during the course of my Denning’s Point research when I pulled out my blue pencil and scribbled a few facts from intriguing newspaper articles describing simultaneous events elsewhere. These “blue pencil” wanderings provided a much-needed break for me, but had no other redeeming value for they had nothing to do with Denning’s Point. However, they brought smiles to my face and I always resumed researching Denning’s Point stories with restored vigor. As we plod through this cold, snowy winter together perhaps you, too, will find them a source of smiles and renewed energy.  

          By 1866 William H. Denning, the last of the male family members had passed away and management of the Denning’s Point estate had fallen to his mother and sisters. The main line railroad to NYC already bordered the island and the future of Denning’s Point was looking precarious. With railroad maps, engineer sketches and newspapers piled high I escaped with a few choice blue pencil jottings. Did you know that on February 13, 1866 Jesse James committed the first peacetime daylight bank robbery in US history in Liberty, Missouri? Jesse James, was no "Robin Hood" as my childhood fantasy had imagined him. He was a rebel scoundrel during the Civil War and it was no accident that the bank he and his gang robbed was owned by a former Republican militia officer. The "James boys" rode out of town, guns blazing, killing a bystander. In one of those strange quirks of history, the man killed happened to have been a student at William Jewell College which James' father had helped to found.

        For another decidedly human touch for 1866 I discovered that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded in 1866 in New York City by Henry Bergh (August 29, 1811-March 12, 1888). Bergh was also instrumental in the founding of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He was the first to successfully challenge the prevailing view that both animals and children were property with no rights of their own. Because of him, it is now accepted that abuse of animals or children is an offense to both human sensibility and established law. Bergh founded the ASPCA using his own funds and he was dogged (so to speak) by his own success as he was soon inundated with dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, and  many other abandoned beasts. Sounds as if the ASPCA was as overloaded then as it is now, over 150 years later. To add its own twist of unrelated irony, in 1866 Alfred Nobel, philanthropist founder of the Nobel Peace Prize, invented Dynamite!   A Peace Prize and a stick of dynamite seem to make for strange bedfellows.

       Join me as I muse my way over the next few months through some more “blue pencil” surprises enjoying tidbits of history: sometimes hysterically funny and sometimes thought-provoking, but always merely coincidental to my research on the lives lived and events occurring on Denning’s Point. Maybe you, too, will happily proclaim that history can be explosive on a blusteringly cold winter day!


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Comment by Katie HM on August 22, 2015 at 7:28pm

Hi Jim,

We were just publishing an article on Denning's Point from a historical point of view, and were looking for photos of the mansion. We used the one you published here if that's alright!

Comment by Jim Heron on March 2, 2011 at 5:38pm
P.S. One of the Denning's women was a horticulturalist of some renown and did plant non-indigenous species around the island. Very few have actually been annotated, but you do see a large patch of Vinca on the bay side of the island as you turn from the end of the point and start home. (going counter-clockwise) JH
Comment by Jim Heron on March 2, 2011 at 5:31pm
The picture in the blog is circa 1860, the very beginnings of the photography age. The building, or what is left of it, is about 2/3 of the way south on the island, right in the middle. If you take the river side trail it is easiest to find. In early Spring it is visible to the sharp eye, but it does blend into its surroundings as it is really only a ruin. Look for a very very old Oak tree about 25 meters in from the trail ... the mansion is right beside it. If you find it, be very careful of the cold cellar to the East of the main building as it is easy to step into the ceiling vent hole at ground level and can make for a nasty sprained ankle. I lead tours at least once a month starting in April ... check; for the dates. It is a wonderful place ... with a soul of its own. Thanks for your comment. Jim Heron
Comment by Philomena on March 2, 2011 at 12:56pm
LOLOL !! snapping turtles can be ornery creatures :-)) Once the trail re-opens, but before all the trees leaf out, you may be able to spot the foundations from the trail - if you start on the right side of the trail, on the river-side, going counter-clockwise, the house is a good bit back in the trees to your left, maybe a third of the way to the end of the point. It's so overgrown, I've only been able to spot it once on my own, but it's always fun to keep trying !
Comment by Ben Royce on March 2, 2011 at 11:45am

Philomena: I run on Dennings Point 2-3 a week when its open, I know it well. But I never knew where the house was. All of the pits from the brick work days confuses the landscape to me. I haven't been on Jim's walks, but I ran by him and one of his tour groups once. I'll go some day, I read his book, great book.


And some of those plants, I thought, they had to be escaped garden plants, they don't seem like an average forest plant, thanks for the confirmation!


But I think the most stunning fossil creature I came across on Dennings Point was a huge snapping turtle, right in the middle of the path where it is swampy. The guy was so big, I wouldn't be surprised if he was around when that picture above was taken!


Comment by Philomena on March 2, 2011 at 11:36am
Hi Ben - the foundations of the house are still there, back in the woods now - Jim hosts walks very now and then thru the Point and he knows exactly where the house is - not easy to find unless you know ! Here and there are some remnants of the plants that were in the gardens, i.e. groundcovers, like Vinca, that aren't often found in "woods" - very fun stuff!
Comment by Ben Royce on March 2, 2011 at 10:10am

Jim, that's a great picture. That house was on Dennings Point right? Where was it approximately? I wonder if there are any plant species left on the point that used to be part of the gardens.


Comment by Anne Lynch on March 1, 2011 at 7:04pm
Thank you Jim, very interesting.

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