The words ELEPHANT HOTEL were painted across the building to commemorate
the elephant that was known as Old Bet. In 1827 a wooden ikeness of an elephant
atop a granite shaft was erected to honor Old Bet and his subsequent two
elephants, Little Bet and Columbus in front of the hotel. The monument remains
today, although the original statue had to be replaced because of its decaying
condition. The trunk of the original statue is on exhibit in the Musuem of the Early
Somers claim to fame as the "Cradle of the American Circus" goes back to around
1805, when it is assumed that Hachaliah Bailey acquired an Asian elephant, named
her Old Bet, and took her on tour along the eastern seaboard of the new nation. It
is speculated that Hachaliah had planned to use the elephant for labor. He soon
added other exotic animals to this menagerie. His neighbors and relatives joined
him in this enterprise, sometimes as partners, sometimes as competitors. The
fever spread to North Salem, Carmel, Brewster, and other adjoining towns. In
1835 the Zoological Institute was incorporated at the Elephant Hotel.
Situated at the intersection of the Croton Turnpike and the Peekskill Turnpike,
and in a very viable community, the hotel became the economic and social center
of Somers and the surrounding area. Not only was it the meeting place for the
menageries/circus owners, it was also a stage coach stop for travelers between
New York City and points to the north and east. It was the stopping place for
drovers as they drove their cattle, sheep and hogs to the New York City markets.
In 1839 the Farmers and Drovers Bank of Somers was chartered and housed in
what is now the Town Clerk's office and an adjacent buiilding. With the coming of
the railroad to the east of Somers in the 1840's, the hotel and the hamlet of
Somers lost their status as the economic center of the area. The bank went into
voluntary liquidation in1885 and ceased its operations in 1905.
The Hotel continued, however, to be a social center. Numerous balls, soirees,
dancing schools and other social functions took advantage of its spaciousness and
the "swinging" ballroom on the seond floor of the wing to the east.
In 1923 D.W. Griffith filmed a portion of his epic motion picture "America" in
Somers. Mr. Griffith, Lionel Barrymore and other members of the cast were guests
of the Hotel.
The Hotel was purchased by the Town of Somers from the Bailey family in 1927.
While now filled with filing cabinets, desks and computers, the beauty of the
building can still be seen in stately portico and entrance hall, the woodwork
surrounding windows and doors, the fireplaces in each room. The huge fireplace,
measuring 8 feet by 6 feet 3 inches, once used for cooking, is now one wall of the
town employees' lounge.
The Somers Historical Society and the Museum of the Early American Circus
occupy the third floor of the historic building. The Society which has a full time
curator, also houses a collection of materials relating to local and circus history,
and a research library, available to the public by appointment.
The Elephant Hotel in Somers, New York has been designated a National Historic
Landmark by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton. The building was
one of 24 sites designated on April 5, 2005.
|HISTORY OF THE ELEPHANT HOTEL
This classic three-story red brick
structure was built between 1820
and 1825 by Hachaliah Bailey, a
significant figure in the formation
of the American Circus. This
building is a rare, distinctive
example of Federal Period
domestic architecture. It is also a
distinguished specimen of a rural
Updated: December 18, 2008