Denning’s Point trails are now open for the summer. You are once again invited to visit and to engage your senses; take in sights, sounds, and smells first hand. The trails are clear of winter debris and the beach areas await you. Of course, please carry out what you carried in so that others may also experience the pristine beauty of a quiet morning, the raw power of a stormy mid-afternoon, or the settled-in feeling of an evening. Leave behind only footprints as you explore on your own or participate in the variety of tours and programs available at no cost to you through Beacon Institute (BIRE). Check out the website BIRE.org for details. Denning’s Point is a state park there for you to enjoy, a sanctuary for both people and wildlife. As you walk Denning’s Point at this time of year, let history bring up images that fold neatly into the present and offer food for thought. Let’s revel in the increased daylight thinking about summer as experienced on Denning’s Point over the years, then and now.
1915 American Canoe Association week long meeting on Denning's Point
When you’re out walking on the Point watch for what look like unusual “turtles:” pairs of humans transporting their canoe upside down, over their heads and balanced on their shoulders like a shell, making their way to the beaches to launch their vessel and climb in. Perhaps you’ll wonder, as I did, about the many other paddlers who had made this same trek over the centuries. What did they look like? What was their mission? How were their canoes fashioned?
For six thousand years the shores of Denning’s Point have seen canoe launchings and landings. Prehistoric inhabitants, the later Native Americans, colonial settlers, and more modern paddlers have all found respite on beaches jutting far out into the Hudson River. Their canoes varied greatly, as did the paddlers themselves, but throughout the ages canoes have been paddled on the Hudson River for reasons ranging from survival, to commerce, to answering a mystical call of the Hudson, to fun and recreation. Think of the laughter shared in 1915 when the Atlantic division of the American Canoe Association held its annual event on Denning’s Point.
For that historical, and probably at times hysterical, event no fewer than 500 canoeing enthusiasts camped on the Point for a week of races and canoe tipping events, as well as exhibitions of paddling dexterity and balance. Those events were held at the southern end of the Point known as Washington’s landing. Reporting in newspaper articles of the time revealed the innate sexism then common in America. The men, referred to as “braves” in the newspaper reports, paddled while the women, referred to as “squaws,” stayed in camp to prepare meals for the hungry “braves.”! Nonetheless the seeds of movement toward equality and canoeing fun for women were happily evident in a report of three young ladies liberating a canoe and spending the day exploring the river!
Over the next few months let’s continue to share stories of the men, women, and children who throughout history have toiled and relaxed on Denning’s Point seeking a balance in their lives during the longer days and shorter nights of spring and summer.
Jim Heron, author of Denning’s Point - A Hudson River History and Project Historian of Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries.