Historical Profile: Those Stone Walls in Somers
A careful Somers resident will be aware of the many amazing stone walls, some of which are just piles of stones and some of which have been carefully built. They are evidence of those who came before us.
In the early 18th century, many people settled in Somers (Stephentown) and cleared the existing forest to grow crops and feed their cattle. First they cut down the trees and built a makeshift fence around their property with some of the wood. Oxen pulled out stumps that farmers often burned. But in the end it wasn’t easy to order the floor. Large rocks and stones mix with the ground, especially in the highlands.
The farmers put the stones on a stone sledge and stacked them on the side of the field. But with each spring thaw, more stones were “born”. Farmers soon learned to stack the stones so that a semi-permanent fence was created that marked their pastures and property lines. Often times this task was done by Native Americans, servants, and children. No mortar or binding material was used.
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By 1871, New England and New York had about 252,539 miles of stone walls that could orbit the earth ten times. Rock walls were everywhere in Somers.
These ancient rock faces can be seen along Old Somers Road (also known as Peekskill Road) which is a short offshoot of US 202 near Somers Intermediate School. At the beginning of the 20th century the prospect was a pasture and fields surrounded by pastures and fields with a lonely farmhouse, barn, and other outbuildings here and there. When agriculture declined, many pastures were not plowed or mowed and slowly shrubs and then trees like oak and maple began to take over and create new woodland.
But the rock walls remained, often with very old, old trees; the adults of saplings were allowed to grow on the wall many years ago.
The history of the Somers Cliffs began in the Ice Age and was marked by events in the 19th century and conflicts between Native Americans over land use. The 20th century rededication and various forms of land development endangered the amazing rock faces built by the sweat of the early Somersians. But many are still left, some are hidden in the forest and mark farms that have long since passed away.
Every wall and every stone has its own story.