The Town of Somers is located in the northern part of Westchester County, NY. Somers is comprised of five communities: Amawalk, Baldwin Place, Granite Springs, Lincolndale, and Shenorock.
The Mohegan tribe of the Algonquin nation originally occupied Somers. Settlement in Somers began in 1700. The town was originally named Stephentown. However, a town by the same name already existed in Renssealaer County. This lead to the name being changed to Somerstown and in 1808 to Town of Somers.
The railroad developed in the 1840’s and bypassed Somers. This caused a decline in the rate of growth of Somers over the next hundred years. However, the presence of the railroad in nearby communities allowed for a shift from agriculture towards dairy production and fruit growing. Industry continued to thrive, with grist, paper, saw and clothing mills operating in the area. Between 1890 and 1910, the Croton and Muscoot Rivers were flooded to create the New York City Reservoir system, thereby changing the local landscape considerably. After World War II the rolling hillside country attracted weekenders from New York City. The construction of I-684 in the mid-70’s facilitated additional residential and commercial development. IBM and PepsiCo built office complexes in the 1980’s.
Today, numerous 19th century historic buildings remain including Mount Zion Church (1794) and the Wright-Reis Homestead (1867). The Somers Historical Society oversees these properties and makes them available for public visitation several times a year.
Point of Interest: In 1804, a farmer and cattle merchant named Hachaliah Bailey acquired an African Elephant he named “Old Bet”. She was one of the first elephants in America. Although Bailey had planned to use the elephant for heavy-duty work on the farm, many people came to Somers to see the elephant. This inspired Bailey to exhibit Old Bet throughout the northeast. His success in this venture attracted numerous partners and rivals from local families, who joined in the business of importing and exhibiting exotic animals. The resulting menagerie business paralleled the development of the circus in America, and by the 1830’s the two forms of popular entertainment merged to form the basis of the modern American circus. In fact, the majority of early 19th century circus proprietors came from Somers and neighboring towns in Northern Westchester and Putnam counties. This has led to Somers being titled “The Cradle of the American Circus”.
History And Antiquities
The following covers "History and Antiquities", a general collection of interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, and anecdotes about Westchester County and its towns. When reading the following, remember to keep in mind that this information has been written about two hundred years ago. Population statistics and events have not been revised to reflect current events and perspective. We think this adds to the historical flavor and interest of the writings, giving a different perspective on much of this information and written in an "older world" writing style.
"Historical Collections of the State of New York, Published by S. Tuttle, 194 Chatham-Square, 1841
"Somers is on the north line of the county, 50 miles NE. of New York, and 10 east of Peekskill. Pop. 2,082. Somers is a neat post village, containing 2 churches and about 40 dwellings. Owensville is a post village, where there are located several factories and about 30 dwellings."
History of Amawalk, Compiled 1940
Somers, 1.7 m. (300 alt.,100 pop.), 'the birthplace of the American circus.' In the center of the hamlet is the wooden Statue of Old Bet, the first traveling elephant, standing on a granite shaft. In 1815 Hachaliah Bailey purchased the animal from a ship captain, who had brought her over from England. Bailey named her 'Old Bet' and began to exhibit her about the country. He added monkeys and a bear or two, traveling from place to place at night tominimize the 'free show' possibilities.
Then 'Uncle Nate' Howes, of South East, now Sodom, Putnam County, leased Old Bet from Bailey and introduced the first canvas-roofed 'round top' to the circus industry. But Old Bet was neither old nor docile, and since little or nothing was known about the handling of elephants, it was not surprising that her behavior often excited aprrehension among the villagers. Finally a group of fanatics in Connecticut who detected in her a resemblance to the Behemoth of Scripture shot her down.
After the demise of Old Bet, a number of wagon shows were spawned in the vicinity of Brewster. Clowns were added to pep up the parade; Daniel Drew, from Carmel, later a famous financier, got his start as a clown, and 'Jim' Fish, his partner, was once a menagerie man. George F. Bailey, nephew of Hachaliah, a tavern keeper, joined forces with Aaron Turner, a show promotor, and Phineas Taylor Barnun, a Connecticut storekeeper and lottery man. 'Uncle Nate' Howes had a young brother, Seth B. Howes, who became a partner in P.T. Barnum's American Museum and Menagerie. Seth Howes took the Great American Show to England and made a fortune out of it.
Opposite the elephant monument is the Elephant Hotel, a three-story brick structure, now the village hall of Somers. It was built by Bailey as a resort for the circus fraternity and for the entertainment of drovers, who were frequent guests.
Source: Excerpts from
"New York, A Guide to the Empire State"
, Compiled by workers of the Writer's Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of New York, 1940 Albany
About Somers Today
For information about activities, attractions, and things to do in or near the Town of
Somers, visit local and
state parks in Somers,
go golfing in Somers or visit the
antique shops in Somers. Enjoy healthy and invigerating outdoor activities such as
biking, or take the kids on a
picnic at one of the many beautiful parks in the area. Plan a visit to the beautiful gardens of
Lasdon Park Arboretum in Somers.