Longer Days & Shorter Nights on Denning’s Point
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.
When you’re out walking on the Point listen for the sounds of splashing and laughter; do you hear the gaiety of people in times past in your mind and heart even as your ears pick out the sounds of current-day children of all ages? There are four distinct “beach” areas on Denning’s Point: three at the extreme southern end and one about midway on the bay side. It has been a long time since bathers risked the once-polluted waters for a dip on a hot day, but they are returning along with growing numbers of fishermen. Swimming off Denning’s Point is not sanctioned by the Department of Parks. However, the “beaches” are absolutely fabulous places for a picnic! Perhaps you’ll wonder, as I did, about the others who through the years have sought relief from summer’s heat on these beaches.
Bathers have been flocking to Denning’s Point’s shores for six thousand years. The prehistoric inhabitants and later Native Americans considered the River sacred and considered both its bounty and its beaches to be treasured gifts. During the colonial period, as Dutchess County grew in population, the Point became increasingly popular. We can read accounts of George Washington’s troops frolicking in the cool waters during the revolutionary war era; there are even scandalized reports of the troops bathing naked. Today we call that “skinny dipping” and you have my eye witness report that such goings-on still occasionally occur unsanctioned, of course, on the far reaches of Denning’s Point!
The true heydays of Denning’s Point picnicking, pleasure boating, and bathing began in the late 1800s and lasted well into the 1950s. It was then known as the “Coney Island of the Hudson” and the locals eagerly anticipated its seasonal opening and the accompanying fanfare. Each summer newspapers ran quarter-pages ads that read, “Now open - ‘The Peoples Pleasure Grounds’ - DENNING’S POINT - Better than ever before – Clean, sanitary Bath Houses – Refreshments – Join the Crowd.” And crowd on in they did as the attached photo reveals.
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.