Denning's Point Hike: Walking The Rise & Fall of American Grandeur During the Industrial Revolution to the Jazz Age

Look at the bald eagle perched above you. The Wiccappee Indians saw them too. Stand on the clay and rock of the beach and watch the tide, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton did as well. Tucked away and easy to bypass, Denning's Point is as filled with as much history as it is with dense, diverse nature. Take in the breathtaking scenery and terrain of this 1.2 mile circuit trail, and take your time to inhale the vast history of it as well.

Denning's Point

The Nuts and Bolts of the Denning's Point Hike

You can park in the parking lot off of Denning's Avenue and take the little connector dirt road to the overpass going over the railroad and onto the point. You can also access the trail via the Madame Brett connectors or the Klara Sauer Trail. The point is actually a peninsula that juts out into the Hudson River, and is the northern-most point of the Hudson Highlands state park. It’s a flat hike that is full of native and invasive species of flora and fauna. The most common of these invasive include water chestnut, which blankets huge swaths of the river around the point, buckthorn, Asiatic bittersweet and swallowwart. You’ll also find, as you pass several old abandoned buildings, a multitude of tree species from maples to cherry and apple, as well as shrubs of honeysuckle, sumac and tastier varieties like black and elderberry, autumn olive and more. If you are into foraging, be sure to look out for wild ginger, burdock, garlic mustard, field garlic, asparagus, thistle, strawberry, milkweed, St. Johnswort and much, much more! One could open an apothecary just on the bounty around Denning's Point. (While on the beach, try and find remains of an old cider mill for Pippen apples, the apple orchard once maintained here for “Fishkill champagne”!). And don’t forget about the bald eagles-the park is a nesting place for them, and is actually closed during the late fall through winter months to protect their nesting periods. 

The trail forks just past the large abandoned factory. You can take either loop, and both will run course along the river, eventually opening up to gorgeous views of the Hudson, the highlands, and Newburgh. The rocky beach area has a near deserted Island feel and is a delightful respite from the dense wooded trail area where you can relax to the lapping sounds of water and rays of sunshine. The 1.2 mile loop is a fairly even grade, though getting down to the beach area is a little steep, but well worth it. Allow for an hour at least to take in all the nature and scenery. 

The History of Denning's Point

Archeologists have found evidence of inhabitants as far back as 4000 B.C. in this outcrop on the Hudson River. The Hudson River historian, Arthur Adams had pointed out that Wiccapee and Shenandoah Indian tribes had used it as burial grounds. And the history only gets better from there. The site was initially part of the large Rombout Patent, the large land purchase by Frans Rombouts and the Verplank family from the Wappinger Indians. The daughter of Mr. Verplank, Catharyna, built a grist mill just off the point in the beginning of the 18th century after marrying a Roger Brett. After he passed, Madame Brett in the middle of the century, sold the land to Jacob de Peyster, who renamed it DePyester’s Point and built on it. During the American Revolution, the point became and eastern terminus for the war efforts. General Washington was said to have walked the point himself and spent time on conducting war business there. It was an important part of the transportation and strategic planning for the Patriots. So important in fact that Alexander Hamilton actually rented one of DePeyster’s homes on the point, and wrote the precursors to The Federalist Papers while here! One can imagine, with the types of men Washington and his generals were, that they perhaps picked, or even introduced some of the edible shrubs and herbs around the hike, although a local trail leader suggests that a renown female horticulturalist introduced several plants. Shortly after the war in 1785, Washington Staffer, Adjutant-General William Denning purchased the land and built his own mansion, “Presqu’ile” on 45 acres of the southern point.

William Denning's mansion built on 45 acres on the southern point.
Photo Credit: Jim Heron sharing his knowledge on Beacon Citizen.

A century later, after turnover from a bankrupt railroad, the site was converted to a brickworks factory and fanciful homestead by Newburgh resident Homer Ramsdell. In your traverses around Beacon, you might have found bricks labeled “DPBW,” (or Denning's Point Brick Works).

Bricks from the Denning's Point Brick Works.
Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

At Presqu’ile, all the splendors (and eventual downfalls) of the pre-industrial antibellum age were experienced by Emily Denning Van Rensselaer et al, with the sweeping lawns and elegant parties. But amid this grandeur, Ramsedell, or “Old Man Tardy” as he was known to some, cleared a third of the point for clay and sand to make his bricks. Soon the point was swarming with industry and immigrants (some of whose relatives still live in Beacon today) and Emily Van Rensselaer left but the brickworks was going steady (eventually pulling out of the point in 1939). Several decades after Emily left, in the 1920’s, the estate was in ruins having been vacant, then settled by brick-worker families, then vacated again. But that didn’t stop the point from being an attraction. 

The 1920’s and 30’s were a buzz-worthy time for the point. Thousands of locals and travelers came to Denning's Point to swim in the brackish waters and enjoy Sunday music and a lively resort. Ferries would motor guests across the river from Newburgh, and coaches would haul picnic-goers from all over. On a typical weekend day, the little beach would be packed with sunbathers and partygoers, often dancing away to live music. So much so, that the little park was called “The Coney Island of Dutchess County.” 

(Source: Beacon Revisted, by Robert J Murphy, Denis Doring VanBuren)

After exchanging company hands for the next handful of decades (a construction paneling company, Durisol, and a pin ticket manufacturer called Noesting), the point was eventually purchased by the State of New York in 1988. In 2003, then Governor George Pataki chose the site for a new research facility, Rivers and Estuary Center, now Beacon Institute's Center for Environmental Innovation and Education. To learn more about the remarkable history of Denning's Point, check out Denning's Point, A Hudson River History by Jim Heron

Extend Your Stay on the Trail…

Expand the 1.2 mile loop by continuing on to the Klara Sauer Trail along the river once you exit the point. This trail will bring you out to Long Dock Park. Or you can turn right from the trailhead when heading over the train tracks to the parking lot to traverse the new Dave Miller Connector trail that marries Denning's Point to Madame Brett Park and on to the waterfront. My wife and I typically do the whole loop, starting from Tioronda and continuing on to Madame Brett, the connector and do the entirety through Denning’s Point to the waterfront which is a great way to see the beautiful, historic rim of Beacon!

Denning's Point perfectly encapsulates the great and often turbulent narrative of America, from the Native Americans, to Henry Hudson, the American Revolution; from the Federalist grandeur and antebellum culture to the rise and fall of industrial America. The remarkable diversity of plant species and gorgeous river views will certainly help you appreciate the history even more.

Please welcome back contributor Dylan Price, a writer/filmmaker and avid outdoorsman who moved to Beacon with his wife from Washington D.C. They were attracted to Beacon for the unique mix of nature, art and food. Dylan will continue to explore and share the more historical aspects of our local trails for our Hiking Series.