The following is from the Somers Historical Society:
This year marks the 24th time the US Decennial Census has come to Somers. The history of the census is a remarkable tale which touches each of us in many ways. The history of Somers is rooted in the story of our population growth over the years.
The word “Census” comes from the Latin word Censere “to assess.” It was used by the Romans to enroll the names and property assessments of all Roman citizens so as to be able to tax them and for military conscription. It was why Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem to be counted.
When our founding fathers were writing the Constitution, they wanted a way to ensure that the government represented the people.
They did this in Article I, Section 2 which would require that the government count every person living in the newly created United States of America once every ten years and use that count to determine representation in the Congress. It was considered constitutional to include questions in the decennial census beyond those concerning a simple count of the number of people.
Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State directed the first census in 1790 which was taken by marshalls in the original 13 colonies plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee). It included six questions for Somers residents. The head of the family was asked to list the free white males age 16 and upward (to assess the country’s industrial and military potential); free white males under 16; free white females; All other free persons; and slaves. While such questions would be unthinkable now, they were acceptable to 1790 society.
Stephentown (aka Somers) was founded in April 1788 and the US Constitution ratified in June that year. The Town of Somers consists of 32.3 square miles with 2.2 square miles underwater. Manhattan by contrast consists of 22.8 square miles. The population of Somers in 1790 was l,297 people while Manhattan had a whopping 33,131. By 2010 Somers had 20,434 souls whereas Manhattan was home to 1,585,873 residents.
The population of Somers is linked to the historical events over the past 230 years. In 1790, Somers was mostly farms. As previously stated, population was 1,297 people. In 1808 Hachaliah Baily brought Old Bet to Somers. Thus began the era of the menageries. By 1830 there were l,887 people in town including drovers and farmers. Although the railroad reached Croton Falls in 1847, the population dropped to 1,722 in 1850 after a short spike to 2,082. In 1871 the Putnam Division and Mahopac Spur brought trains to western Somers but the population was only 1,639. Dairy farming began while menageries declined. In 1890 there were 1,897 people in Somers. So in the first 100 years the population of Somers remained almost the same.
The first 20 years in the 20th century Somers population declined so that there were only 1,117 people counted in the census of 1920, fewer than in 1790. World War I, movement off the farms, the Spanish flu, and the lure of the city may have been factors in the decline. Then in 1940 an upward trend began with the population of Somers and did not stop! By 1950 there were 3,159 residents. In the ‘60s and ;70s people were leaving the city and the town population jumped to 9,402 people. With the construction of Interstate 684 completed by 1980 and modernization of the Harlem Line of the NYCRR, Somers was no longer a sleepy little town. By 1980 the population increased 39.7 percent to 13,122 and in 1990 by 23.5 percent to 18,346. Heritage Hills and other housing developments increased the 2010 population to 20,434 doubling the number of Somers residents in only 40 years. It is hard to believe that Somers in 2010 was home to an average of 610 people per square mile.
Through careful planning the town has retained its rural character and is a most desirable place to call home. It will be very interesting to find out how many agree with that when the 2020 Census results become available.