The words ELEPHANT HOTEL were painted across the building to commemorate the elephant that was known as Old Bet. In 1827 a wooden likeness 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 in the collections of Somers Historical Society. In 2013, the television series "Monumental Mysteries" featured an episode about Old Bet.
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 and Peekskill Turnpikes, the Elephant 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 building. 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 in 1885 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 second 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
The Elephant Hotel, a National Historic Landmark, is was built between 1820 and 1825 by Hachaliah Bailey, a significant figure in the formation of the early travelling menageries in the United States. It is noted by architectural historians as being representative of a rare, distinctive example of Federal Period domestic architecture and a distinguished specimen of a rural turnpike hotel.