Pulaski County Fact Book II
Chapter 6 Public Services

Before the War Between the States, the town of Somerset was not large enough to warrant the use of a public conveyance for the people of the town. There were just two or three principal thoroughfares which would have hardly come under the heading or name of streets. The residents of the town walked from one place to another within the town limits.

The first walks on the Public Square were completed about 1842, for in June, 1843, Jacob Bishop was paid the balance of $6.50 due him for laying the walks. It was not until October 16, 1848, that the question of paving the streets was raised. In that year the County Court ordered that the sum of $300 be appropriated for the purposed of grading and macadamizing the Public Square east of Main Street in the town of Somerset. The work was to be under the direction and control of the Trustees of the town. The County Treasurer, David K. Newell, was directed to pay the money appropriated for the purpose already stated to the Trustees of the town.

Again in December, 1848, the County Court directed the County Treasurer to pay the sum of $200 to the town Trustees to be used in improving the Public Square. First, the finishing of the rocking of the upper side which had evidently been left partly done from the previous order. The Trustees were to receive $100 cash, and the proceeds were to be used for the improvement of the streets only.

After the streets and roads to Somerset had been improved to the extent that traveling became less difficult, the stagecoaches began to operate between Somerset and Stanford, Waitsboro, Crab Orchard, Mt. Vernon, and Columbia. This was about 1850, and the stagecoaches brought lawyers from other county seats to Somerset for the District or Circuit Court. There would be an occasional drummer as a passenger. The stagecoaches also served as mail carriers. At best, the stagecoach was an uncomfortable means of travel. Still, the stagecoach era remains as one of the most romantic periods in the development of the American towns, cities, and even the nation.

After the War Between the States, various modes of travel, and especially local conveyances, made their appearances. Tradition has it that James Newell, a prosperous young man who held large interests in the coal mining fields up the Cumberland River, brought the first buggy to Somerset. The first buggies had high wheels, and it was necessary to use steps to get in and out of them. About the same time there appeared a more luxurious vehicle, the rock-a-way, which had a square top and a door on both sides with a small seat in front for the driver. Apparently this was a cross between the surrey and the smaller type carriage. The low and more comfortable Phaeton was owned by some of the wealthier citizens of Somerset. Then, in time, the more fashionable and stately vehicles appeared in the streets – the double-seated carriages – and the surrey with its flat, fringed top. There was one or more of every type of conveyance owned by many of the inhabitants of Somerset.

The first city carrier was the "Black Maria" or "All Out," which was put into operation after the railroad reached Somerset in 1877. This was a covered spring wagon drawn by two horses, and was owned and operated by H.C. Gann, who, when ready to leave the Public Square for the railroad station, could be heard above the noise when he called "All Out." According to Mrs. F. E. Tibbals, T.V. Ferrell brought the first automobile, a Cadillac, to

Somerset in 1904. Ferrell had bought the automobile at the St. Louis Fare and its appearance on the streets of Somerset created a great deal of excitement.

In 1890, Joe Gibson introduced the Somerset people to their first bicycle, a tall ungainly affair – a high wheel in front on which the rider sat and a small wheel trailed behind. Later, the balanced two-wheels of the same size bike was brought to Somerset and was greatly enjoyed by all the young people who would venture past time of such young ladies as Sue Brinkley (Mrs. Cable Owens), Mae Pinnell, and Lizzie Calvert (Mrs. Ellis Ogden).

During the years between 1898 and 1904, seven miles of concrete sidewalks had been constructed and the city officials were expecting to spend $50,000 before the project could be completed. In September, 1906, the City Council was authorized by ordinance to accept bids for the building of sidewalks on all the principal streets in the city. These were to be constructed of artificial stone or concrete. Permanent streets of rock asphalt were constructed under the supervision of W.C. Norfleet, mayor, Work on them was started in the year 1922, but inclement weather delayed their completion until 1926.

On February 27, 1905, a franchise, by ordinance, was granted to O.H. Waddle to operate an electric street car or railway system in Somerset. The work of laying the track and putting the system into operation was not completed until March 21, 1907. The first car was put into operation between North College at the Fair Grounds and Woods Crossing south of Somerset on March 24, 1907.

The citizens of Somerset were enjoying electric light by 1904, but evidently there was some difficulty with the service because a writer for one of the local newspapers suggested that the city buy a couple of boxes of Star Candles and dump the electric light plant into the Cumberland River. (The South Somerset Sun, February 10, 1905.)

A franchise, which was to run for twenty years, was sold to the Somerset Water, Light, and traction Company August 31, 1905. The president of this concern was Godfrey Hunter. Later this franchise was transferred to the Kentucky Utilities Company. According to the Commonwealth Journal of October 25, 1966, the City Council approved an ordinance which awarded the Kentucky Utilities Company an extension of the electrical franchise for the City of Somerset for twenty years.

From 1899 to 1904 Somerset increased in population from 3,500 to 6,000. In 1904, the local newspapers predicted that the next five years would show an increase of from 2,500 to 3,000. However, this prediction did not materialize, and the increase form the beginning of the present century was the greatest so far in the town’s history. In 1950, the population was 7,097 and in 1960 was 7,112, although the population in the Somerset Greater Area was listed as approximately 16,000 in 1966.

According to tradition the first telephone in Somerset was owned by a Doctor Allen, who operated it as a private line between his home three miles south of the town and his office in Somerset.

On August 9, 1897, under the supervision of Thomas R. Griffin, one of Somerset’s early and progressive minded mayors, a franchise was granted to A.D. Shotwell and J.B. Upton to erect and maintain a telephone exchange in the city of Somerset. This exchange was located in an upstairs room of the Odd Fellows Hall. As the years passed this telephone system was replaced by a more elaborate one.

The Gainesboro Telephone Company was operating in Somerset in 1928. This company was purchased by the Southern Continental Company, and James M. Cox, president, announced the transaction became effective January 1, 1931.

In February, 1951, the Southern Continental Telephone office at Somerset cut over from the six position switchboard to an eleven position switchboard. Telephone business had increased to such an extent in the past ten years that the company had to expand its efforts in meeting the increasing demand for better service. Installation of the new equipment cost $55,000 and the company head stated the new improvements in recent years had cost the telephone company $100,000.

In 1957 the General Telephone Company of Kentucky announced the purchase of the Southern Continental Telephone Company. At the time of the purchase, Somerset had 3,500 subscribers and the office employed 63 persons. Immediate plans were made for expanding the services of the company and in 1958 Hines and Todd were awarded a contract to build a modern brick building to house the General Telephone Company. The building was completed in 1959, and by June, 1960, the installation of modern and efficient electronic equipment was completed. The Somerset Exchange of General Telephone Company put into operation a new dial system on June 19, 1960 at 2:01 A.M. The building is located at the corner of North Main and Cherry Streets and employs approximately 70 men and women.

Western Union has maintained an office in Somerset for a number of years.

When the town of Somerset was established on June 24, 1801, the fact that many fine springs were within the boundary helped very much. Here was a splendid source of good water for all purposes, and in a very short distance of the town were good creeks and a fine navigable river which served as transportation of many necessary commodities. Wells were dug at most places for homes and businesses. The large spring, which was a vital factor of the establishment of the early settlement, was called Sinking Creek Spring and served as a bountiful source of water. The cool waters of this spring had influenced the building of a church on a small hill overlooking Sinking Creek and perhaps it had influenced a few people to take up lands nearby, for William Fox, William Dodson, John Fitzpatrick, and a few other settles had located on lands in the Sinking Creek area. Good pasturages for stock was available, and settlers here were assured of a good water supply.

On a motion made in the County Court May, 1830, an order granting the Trustees of the town of Somerset permission "to sink a well for public use in the Public Square wherever they may deem it prudent and proper …" A committee of the Trustees was named as follows: Robert Morrell, Elisha W. Cundiff, and William Smith. "Any two of them concurring in opinion shall designate and point out the particular spot where said well shall be sunk." According to most accounts this well was not dug until sometime in 1865.

This well, along with the town spring, were the main sources of water for inhabitants of Somerset until cisterns came into use after 1870. Long after a water system was established in Somerset residents were furnished drinking water from the "Town Spring." As more homes were built, streams began to show impurities, and one of these traced by Dr. J.W.F. Parker was found to empty into the stream to the Town Spring, and people were warned of the danger of drinking this water – this was in the early part of 1900.

The installation of water systems was some time before 1898, for a bill was presented to the Town Council for the previous month’s water rent in the amount of $37.50 with interest from June 1, 1898.

During this same meeting of the City Council, the mayor pointed out that the Somerset Water Company was not complying strictly with the contract. Then Captain John A. Geary, who was president of the company, asked to be informed wherein the contract was not being fully complied. A motion was made to investigate the water situation.

A city reservoir was built atop a large hill just northeast of Somerset east of the present College Street. A pumping station on Pitman Creek three miles away furnished the main water supply to Somerset. A lake was formed by making a dam on Caney Fork Creek. A new and large reservoir was completed in 1949, and in 1950 larger water mains were ran through most of the major streets and outer areas of the town. It has been said that many industries have been lost to Somerset in the years past because of the inadequate water supply, however, Lake Cumberland has filled since 1950 and a new Kentucky Water Company formed. An ample water supply is now available to Somerset, Ferguson, Science Hill, West Somerset, Burnside, East Somerset and surrounding communities.

In October, 1957, Kentucky Water Service completed a new filtration plant and pumping station. This plant cost $675,000 and was considered one of the most modern in the state with facilities to serve a city of 40,000 persons. This plant replaced the old Pump House Plant off the Crab Orchard Road and will supply 1,500,000 gallons of water each day to Somerset.

The city of Somerset had an organized fire department of a sort as early as 1898, for in the Council meetings of February and March of that year the minutes show that two claims were presented for attendance at fires allowing each man $1.50. W.S. Bright made a motion to amend the allowance to seventy-five cents instead of the $1.50 since the fires had been small. The motion was seconded and carried. At a later meeting that year G.A. Elliott made a motion to have R.O. Hughes pick up the city fire hose from the street and put it in the hose house. This motion was seconded by M.L. Crawford and was carried.

The present Somerset Fire Department was organized in January, 1908, when an ordinance was passed by the City Council authorizing a Horse and Buggy Fire Department composed of volunteers and a volunteer firemen. The inadequacy of the fire department was revealed on various occasions when fires caused costly damage. One of the most destructive fires in the town’s history occurred December 27, 1871, when the courthouse, two banks, 14 principal business and dwelling house in the heart of Somerset burned.

The loss was over $50,000. This was, of course, before the town was granted a city charter and before it was equipped with a water system. The most costly conflagration occurred December 20, 1950. The loss of two of the city’s largest department stores, a restaurant, and a barbershop was estimated at $1,000,000. The spirit of being able to face such a great loss was reflected by the proprietor of the barbershop, Faubush Weddle, who placed a small placard bearing his name and Christmas greetings on the pile of ashes that represented what had been a thriving place of business.

The people of Somerset were criticized by the State Fire Marshall and the Manager of the Kentucky Inspection Bureau for their apathy in regard to an adequate city fire department. The Bureau had recommended an additional pumper and three paid firemen in 1947. These, according to the inspection bureau manager, would have cost the city about $20,000 a year in insurance premiums. It was also pointed out that Somerset was paying the highest fire insurance premiums of any Kentucky city in its population class.

In the City Council meeting following this disaster, a plan of requiring a special license on every vehicle owned and operated by a resident or business establishment in the city was proposed, and the Council went on record as favoring such a measure. The City Attorney was instructed to prepare an ordinance covering the proposal. The amount of the cost of this license was not definitely stated, but $5.00 was thought to be acceptable. The receipts of this license were to be used in purchasing the new and more adequate equipment for the Somerset Fire Department.

In 1967 the Somerset Fire Department had three fire trucks. The bid for the latest of these was awarded on March 10, 1965. The fire truck arrived in Somerset February 24, 1966 and was put in service April 4, 1966. The present fire department consists of one Fire Chief and four other paid employees. In addition to these there are sixteen volunteer firemen.

In the local newspaper of March 9, 1928, Mayor W.C. Norfleet and Attorney Gladstone Wesley announced that a company was considering building a gas plant in the near future to supply the city with natural gas. The first natural gas franchise was sold to the Kengreen Utilities company of St. Louis, Missouri, November 24, 1930. The work of laying the pips apparently proceeded so slowly that the Kengreen Utilities Company was given until November 1, 1931 to complete its effort to furnish the city with gas. Later the Peoples Gas Company furnished natural gas to the Somerset area. On April 24, 1951, the Somerset Gas Service was formed, and C.E. Pickens was elected the new manager of the Somerset Gas Service at a called meeting of the City Council in the Mayor’s office. At this time the gas was being furnished by the Petroleum Exploration Company of Sistersville, West Virginia with a daily allotment of 2,000 MCF. This supply of gas was inadequate for a growing city and in October, 1953, it was necessary to lay 34 miles of line to Wess, Kentucky in Casey County to the source of the Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation. In 1967 the 6,200 MCF per day allotment for the 2,500 residences and business establishments served by the Somerset Gas Service was considered ample. In September, 1971, the Commonwealth-Journal stated that due to the increased demand, the City Gas Service was announced to be at its limit and no new customers would be accepted at the present time.

In 1940, a sewage system was begun and was about seventy percent complete when the Second World War began and work had to be suspended because of the resultant shortage of materials. This project was resumed and completed after the end of World War II.

In September, 1964, the Somerset Sewer Department Office was opened in the Municipal Building with Otis Chaney as Manager. A modern sewage plant was constructed and put in operation in May, 1965, with an approximate cost of $980,000. In 1967, the system is valued at $2,300,000 with approximately 36 miles of main sewer lines in the city limits.

According to information secured from the National Archives, the records of the Post Office Department show that a post office was established at Somerset sometime before January 1, 1803. Names of postmasters and dates of their appointment were:

Archibald M. Sublette January 1, 1803

Phillip A. Sublette April 1, 1807

Wiliam J. Sallee January 1, 1810

Henry L. Mills June 25, 1813

John Gumelson August 22, 1815

Micajah Haie December 20, 1816

John Tummelson November 22, 1817

(name changed to John Tomlinson by legislature)

Joseph H. McBeath October 24, 1854

Frank J. White December 7, 1854

John E. Cosson July 9,1861

John R. Richardson October 3, 1861

William A. Sallee January 26, 1863

Solomon Turpin February 7, 1868

Wiley Turpin March 24, 1869

William C. Murphy March 14, 1871

John Inman June 6, 1883

Cyrenius W. Richardson April 12, 1888

Maggie Tarter July 18, 1889

Joseph C. Claunch February 21, 1894

Henry G. Trimble June 22, 1898

William M. Catron January 16,1903

Thomas M. Scott June 15, 1911

Robert L. Brown April 24, 1914

Robert L. Waddle December 14, 1922

Chis L. Tarter May 5, 1927

M.E. Burton August, 1933

James F. Prather (Acting) January 1, 1963

John J. Tohill March 6, 1964

Construction was started on the present post office building located on the corner of East Columbia and North Main Streets in 1912, and the building was completed and occupied in 1913.

Somerset enjoyed daily postal service between Louisville and Somerset after the advent of the Highway Post Office Bus which made the first trip on February, 1949.

On January 10, 1966, the announcement was made that the United States Post Office Department had exercised three options on North Maple Street for the site of a new post office building. The new building will have approximately 15,000 square feet of floor space plus a loading dock.

On August 26, 1966, the Post Office Department officially announced that it was seeking competitive bids to build and lease a building to be used for the new Somerset Post Office. The site will be located at 115-119 North Maple Street. The successful bidder will construct the building according to departmental specifications and lease it to the Post Office Department for a basic period of twenty years with renewal options. A new post office building was completed and formally dedicated on July 4, 1968, by various dignitaries representing the office department and local interested citizens. Among those were William J. Rahter, Assistant to the Region Director of the U.S. Post Office Department, who gave the dedicatory address and Robert E. Gable noted that it was appropriate to have the occasion of the new postal facility on Independence Day. The late M.E. Burton, long-time postmaster of the local office gave a history of the postal service for Somerset and neighboring communities. Many of the rural post offices have been discontinued with improvements of roads and more rapid transportation which enabled rural mail carriers to deliver mail to patrons throughout the countryside. The new structure facilitated mail handling and dispensation in much less time than the crowded conditions of the Main Street building. Postmaster John Tohil stated that the new modern equipment was somewhat of a postmaster’s dreamland. The Somerset citizens were proud to have the expeditious new arrangement with parking space and additional post office boxes.

One of the modern conveniences enjoyed by the residents of Somerset as early as 1899, was a steam laundry. This establishment was owned and operated by P.F. Linnell and J.P. Hornday, and was known as the Somerset Steam Laundry. This was located on Columbia Street, known as Columbia Crossing, and was later operated by Morris Haggard and W.L. Walker. On September 4, 1924, E.H. Patton and J.E. Jones purchased the laundry and it was later moved to the Beecher Smith building at 124 South Main Street. The industry employed seventy five persons. It served from Oneida, Tennessee, south, north and east to Mt. Vernon, Crab Orchard and Lancaster, and went to Liberty, operating six trucks. In January, 1929, they dissolved partnership and E.H. Patton operated the laundry until his death September 4, 1942. After this time, Mrs. E.H. Patton operated the laundry and cleaning establishment until she retired in October, 1959.

An early laundry was in operation on the corner of South Vine Street and West Mt. Vernon Streets, known as the Dixie Dry Cleaners. It later moved to South Maple Street and was operated by Herman Lowenthawal. This cleaner was closed and equipment moved in 1925. In March, 1925, the Central Dry Cleaners, owned by Oscar and Grace Garner and Chester W. Copeland, was opened at 114-116 South Maple Street and this business continued to operate until September, 1966.

Like most frontier towns, Somerset had to manage for a number of years without a hospital of any sort. It was not until the 1890s that a hospital with very limited facilities was established. The available source of information gives the following account of infirmaries that served the city:

The first hospital in Somerset was started by Dr. George M. Reddish in 1893, in South Somerset.

A small hospital on Main Street, almost opposite the present post office, was operated by Dr. J.W.F.

Parker and Dr. A.W. Cain.

The Somerset General Hospital, on the corner of Main and Columbia opposite the post office, was

operated by Dr. Cain and Dr. G.M. Reddish. Dr. Carl Norfleet managed this hospital in later years.

On College Street, Dr. Eugene Beard operated a hospital which was primarily the Southern Railway

Hospital. This was opened about 1920.

Dr. Wahle owned and operated a hospital on the corner of South Central and Cotter Avenues for a

number of years, closing in 1947.

These have given place to the present ninety-bed City Hospital, which was completed in 1945.

Another institution which renders a great service to the local population is the full time health unit, which is expertly staffed and is contributed to by both the town and county. This health unit was one of the first of its kind in Kentucky. The health unit opened in 1931 and in 1952 a new and modern building was completed and occupied on August 14, 1952. A plaque in the lobby of the Center gives this information about its establishment:

1952

PULASKI COUNTY HEALTH CENTER

Contributing Agencies

Pulaski County Fiscal Court

Somerset City Council

Commonwealth of Kentucky

Federal Grant – Hill Burton Act

Pulaski County Board of Health

Judge C.I. Ross, Chairman

Brent Weddle, M.D.

R.C. Sievers, M.D.

A.L. Cooper, M.D.

Dewey Strunk, Esq.

Director

Carl Norfleet, M.D.

Building Committee

C.M. Barker, Chairman

R.E. Cooper

Paul Dexheimer

General Contractor

Hines and Todd

Architect

Howard McClorey

The staff at the Health Office furnished the following list of doctors that have served since its opening:

Dr. E.M. Ewers 1931-33

Dr. D.A. Reekie 1934-36

Dr. E.A. Steiner 1936-39

Dr. Edward C. Humphrey 1939

Dr. Joseph Lachman 1942-45

Dr. Sidney I. Franklin 1945

Dr. Carl Norfleet 1948-53

Dr. A.W. Andreasen 1953-57

Dr. Joe Anne Sexton 1958

Dr. M.A. Shepherd 1959-63

Dr. James F. Rold 1964

A radio station was erected in 1947 and the first broadcast was on Sunday, December 14, 1947. The local newspaper carried the following story of the opening ceremonies:

Radio Station W.S.F.C. (Welcome to Somerset, The Friendly City) got off to an auspicious start last

Sunday afternoon with a ninety minute dedicatory program in which many citizens and organizations

participated. The building located on Highway 27, (now 1247) two miles north of Somerset. Lee Hall

was program director of the new broadcasting center. Alonzo Carter, president of the Southeastern

Broadcasting Company sketched the history of the organization. Dr. Preston Ramsey, pastor of the

First Baptist Church, asked the invocation and County Judge C.I. Ross saluted the station by saying:

"I have lived when the telephone first became a necessity. I saw the advent of the automobile and

the coming of the radio. Then the radio station was the luxury of the great cities and lived only in our

imagination… A real radio station in our own county, modern in construction and equipment and

with the last-minute improvements is our prized possession, and we are proud of it. This service

will speak to the hills and to the valleys, and its voice will penetrate the gloom and the shadows and

find the lonely and remote. Our thanks go out in abundance to every interest, to every sympathy and

contribution that has erected another milestone in the march of progress. Today we emerge from the

narrow limits of neighborhood to boundaries blazed by electric power."

The station began its commercial programs Monday morning at 6:00 o’clock. The station programmed

throughout the day to 11:00 P.M. weekdays and from 7:00 A.M. to 11:00 P.M. Sunday.

Radio Station WSFC began operation with a frequency of 1240 kilocycles, 1,000 watts power during the day, 250 watts at night, and affiliated with the Mutual Broadcasting Company. November 23, WSEK began frequency modulation broadcasts.

On November 1, 1958, W.T.L.O became Somerset’s second radio station broadcasting with a frequency of 1480 kilocycles and 1,000 watts power, programming from "sunrise to sunset." The center has been under the management of Oris Gowen since its opening.

In January 1967, another radio station was opened. This facility was located at the Somerset Community College operating as WSCC, 90.7 frequency modulation, primarily for the training of college students in radio broadcasting. The Somerset Community College began making TV tape recordings for educational purposes in the spring of 1971.

Chapter Seven

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