November 7, 2013

Profile of Somerset, KY in the Lexington Herald, 1906



[Feb 4, 1906] -

Somerset, the county seat of Pulaski county, is a good type of the enterprising and progressive cities which are now growing up more rapidly than ever before in the mountains of Eastern and Central Kentucky.  Within the last few years these small cities have taken a new lease of life and by reason of the infusion of new capital and development of the enterprises and natural resources of the respective counties have increased in population and wealth enormously.

Somerset is a division point on the Queen and Crescent railway, situated about 161 miles from Cincinnati and 177 miles from Chattanooga.  The nearest city of any size is Lexington, from which it is distant 82 miles.  In point of years, Somerset is one of the oldest towns in Kentucky, having been first settled in 1799.  But its growth in population was exceedingly slow.  It was incorporated as a city in 1887.  The slowness of that growth will be seen from the fact that at the close of the civil war it had a population of only 700.  The first indication of its recent progress dates from 1877, when the Queen and Crescent railway was completed: then it numbered 1,200.

Population Now 8,000.

Today its population is about 8,000 and is increasing in leaps and bounds.  The town is large in area, being about two miles in length, and is divided into two parts, known respectively as North and South Somerset.  The business section of the city is also divided on the same lines.  The main, or older, portion of the town is built around the court house and the court square, but within the last year or so the south end, in which are building the shops of the Queen & Crescent railway, is approaching in business importance the north division.

350 New Houses Last Year.

One of the principal evidences of the healthy growth of the city is the fact that more than 350 new houses were erected in 1905 and at least half as many more are now in process of construction.  And it is nearly impossible for the new business man who is trying to locate there to find suitable accommodations at any price.  Real estate is at a premium and the real estate and lumber businesses are flourishing.

Delightful Climate.

The location of Somerset for those who wish to invest or enter into business is ideal. The city is an exceedingly healthy one.  It is nearly 900 feet above sea level, and the climate is delightful; the winters are not nearly as severe as farther north.  The railroad service is excellent.  As has been said, it is a division point, where the superintendent and his staff are residing; all passenger and freight trains make stops, and the latter transfers freight offering the best of shipping facilities.

Mayor T. R. Griffin.

Much of the credit for the recent activity and growth of Somerset must be given to her enterprising mayor, the Hon. T. R. Griffin.  Mr. Griffin has labored incessantly for the upbringing of the town and county.  No city of equal size ever progressed with more rapid speed in commercial and social development than during his administration.  It is now commonly known as the "Magic City of the Mountains."

Mayor Griffin is of Irish birth, coming to this country in 1864.  He was educated in Maine, served in the U.S. Navy from 1867 to 1869 and then for several years was in the employ of the Northern Pacific Railway Company.  He originally came to Somerset in 1874 to rig the derricks for the Cumberland river bridge at Burnside.  He took service with the Queen & Crescent in 1877 and is now the chief of their structural force.  Mr. Griffin is a member of the Catholic Church and of the Knights of Columbus.

The official family of Pulaski county is made of good men and popular citizens:

Jailer J. F. Hine.

Mr. Hines is now serving his second term as Jailer of the county.  He was born and reared on a farm near Hail in 1864.  He was the oldest of a large family and on the early death of his father the support of the family depended on him.  He served on the government works on the Cumberland river for more than ten years.  He is a member of the Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows and several other fraternal orders.

Sheriff John A. L. Jasper.

Sheriff Jasper took office at the beginning of the present year.  He is a native of Pulaski county and before his election was engaged in the timber and stave business and in farming.  He served as deputy under former Sheriff Ben P. Hines.

Judge N. L. Barnett.

Pulaski County Court House.
Judge Barnett was born in 1849 on a farm near Dallas, in the Eastern part of Pulaski county, where he lived until 1890, except four years when his father was County Judge at Somerset.  He was raised on a farm and secured his education in the common schools of the county.  He began teaching at 19 years of age, finally securing enough means to attend the A. & M. College at Lexington.  He has been deputy sheriff, deputy postmaster at Somerset, County Clerk for three terms and finally elected County Judge in November, 1905.

Public Improvements.

Under the leadership of Dr. A. Godfrey Hunter and his associates, a blanket franchise has been granted the water and electric light plants purchased and there is to be constructed an electric street railway system over the entire town.  Within the present year it is expected that Somerset will have six miles of well equipped street railway, which will encircle the city and afford two different lines of travel between North and South Somerset.  The track will be of 50-pound steel rails and the rolling stock all that could be desired in modern design and make.  It is contemplated to erect a central car depot in Court Square, North Somerset, on which point formerly stood the original historic court house of Pulaski county.  This depot, from which all cars, will start and return, is to be of artistic architecture and a credit to the city.

The main power house of the road will be placed where the electric light plant now stands in South Somerset, and the plant will be of sufficient capacity for the lighting of the city and the operation of the street car system.  The water supply of the city is in the control of the same company and will be amply sufficient to furnish all needed supplies for the present and future needs of a growing city, with plenty of water for sprinkling streets and laws and for all the needs of a growing fire department.  In all, the company is preparing to expend on these various improvements more than $250,000.

Improving the Streets.

One of the surest signs of the progressive municipality is the provisions made for its streets and sidewalks.  Some months ago the city council, with commendable enterprise, ordered that concrete sidewalks be built on all the principal streets.  About a dozen streets were so indicated, and in all over eight and a half miles of walks, with an average width of five feet, were called for.  A Lexington firm, F. T. Justice & Co., secured this extensive contract.  To date about 150,000 square feet have been laid.  The highest grades of Portland cement have been used and Pitman sand, cinders and crushed stone form the foundations.  When the work is completed Somerset will have more concrete pavements than any city in the State with a population of 10,000.  with these improvements the value of the property in the city is steadily rising.
Somerset has nine churches, representing all the principal denominations and some of the church buildings would be a credit to far larger cities; it has three newspapers, up to date in every particular and with large circulations extending to the limits of the county and beyond into the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.  The enterprise of the merchant and business man of Somerset is seen in the extensive advertising all these papers display.

Fine Public Schools.

Somerset keeps abreast of the times in its educational and intellectual life.  It is exceedingly proud of its public schools.  A new school building with all modern improvements in heating, etc., has just been finished at a cost of $20,000.  It is one of the best and handsomest buildings in the State and would be a credit in Lexington or Louisville.  The schools are in charge of 23 teachers and have enrolled now something over 1,200 pupils.  The character of the instruction is evidenced by the admission of the Somerset scholars to the State and other colleges on their certificates of proficiency without any examination.

Q & C. Shops.

One of the principal factors in the recent growth of Somerset is the location of the shops of the Queen & Crescent there.  They are now building and are expected to be completed in July next.  Many hundred of men are now at work.  More than $500,000 is being expended by the railroad company in this improvement.  The shops are the very latest in equipment and in every respect are most modern and up to date.  When completed, more than 1,000 men will be employed the year round, and will consist of all classes of employees, from the skilled engineer and mechanic down to the laborer.  Ample provision has also been made for every future extension of the shops as the exigencies of the railroad growth demand.

The Oil Interests.
Pulaski county is the largest county in the State and is a principality in itself.  It is rich in natural resources.  The timber lands are immense in quantity: there is an inexhaustible supply of coal, iron ore, granite, fire-brick clay (veins from three to thirty feet deep), and fine building stone.  In addition to these, oil has been discovered in large and paying quantities.  The Standard Oil Company has erected tanks in Somerset with a capacity of 235,000 gallons, into which oil is also pumped from the adjoining counties of Fentress and Wayne.  The run for the week ending January 27, 1906, was as follows:

Dist. 2.--Cooper ........ 2,385.20
Dist. 3.--Slickford  ........ 684.52
Dist. 5.--Steubenville ........ 2,824.06
Dist. 6.--Elk Spring Valley ........ 807.66
Dist. 6.--Parmleyville ........ 3612.17
Dist. 9.--Campton ........ 7,674.68
Dist. 10--Steubenville ........ 1,817.41
Dist. 11--Beaver Creek  ........ 371.09
Dist. 12--Ragland ........ 3683.00
Total  ........ 23,970.79

The Mining of Coal.

Among the largest of the coal companies scattered through the county are the Indian Head, the Cogar Creek and the Mahong Coal Companies.  The Indian Head is located just south of Somerset on the line of the Queen & Crescent.  The mine produces the celebrated Black Diamond coal and has a capacity of 200 tons per day.  It employs over 75 men, with a pay roll exceeding $4000 a month.  It sells coal all through Eastern Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The Cogar Creek mine is also located south of Somerset.  It is one of the oldest mines in Eastern Kentucky, has a capacity of 150 tons per day, and gives employment to more than fifty men.  The Mahoning Company opened its mines in south Pulaski in 1898.  More than 200 tons is the output here each day, with the employment of nearly a hundred men.

Big Iron Industry.

Pulaski county has also many large timber companies.  Among others is the Kentucky Lumber Company at Burnside.  The company is using modern band mills, with a capacity of 175,000 feet per day.  At Burnside alone the company has one and a half miles of boom in the Cumberland river and the same extent in South Fork river.  These booms are the very best that can be procured, are electric lighted and equipped with all the latest appliances for handling floating logs.  At this point 125 men are employed; at Williamsburg, nearly 200.

The Somerset Lumber Company is in Somerset itself and has there yards with a capacity of 600,000 feet of rough and finished lumber.  The company is kept busy supplying the local trade.

The soil of Pulaski county throughout its entire area is very fertile and well adapted to the cultivation of all kinds of vegetables and fruits.  The climate is delightful and there is plenty of water at all points, which adds materially to the success of all farming.

The merchant, the farmer, the banker or the investor will not make a mistake if he will investigate the advantages offered by Somerset and Pulaski county for the location of new industries.

Ample Banking Facilities.

There are three first class banks in the city, with a combined deposit account account of nearly $1,000,000.  The First National Bank of Somerset is the oldest of these institutions.  It was organized in 1870 as the National Bank and reincorporated in 1888 as the First National, its capital stock is $20,000 and it is intended to increase it to $100,000.  The present surplus is $30,000 and its stock is valued at $200 per share.  The management has recently expended many thousands of dollars in enlarging and improving its hope quarters.  A new fire and burglar proof safe has been secured.  The First National has safety boxes for the use of its customers, and does a general banking business.  Its annual transactions exceed the figures of any bank in a city of equal size in Kentucky.  The furniture for the new quarters was made on special order in Chicago and its new stone columns, pressed brick and large plate grass front add much to the attractiveness of Court Square.

The Farmers' National Bank is now one of the strong banks of the mountain counties.  It was incorporated in 1901 under the Federal banking laws and has a capital stock of $50,000 and surplus and undivided profits of nearly $100,000.  It is also situated on Court Square and is fitted up along the lines of modern metropolitan banking institutions with a timelock safe, cement vault, safety lock boxes, etc.  In connection with the usual banking business there is carried on a savings department with the home bank system and deposits are accepted there from $1 upwards.

In addition to all these enterprises Somerset has Masonic, Old Fellows, Junior Order and Elks lodges and an energetic and wideawake Commercial Club with all the leading business and professional men of the community enrolled.  With the construction of the waterworks, electric light and power plants, the street railway system and the new railroad shops, employment will be given to more than 2,000 men, which, on a conservative estimate, will add more than 5,000 inhabitants to the city within the next six months. [1]


[1] "Somerset, 'The Magic City' Of the Mountains." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. February 4, 1906. Page 3.


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