Courthouse History

The first Courthouse of Somerset County was a building that was constructed by Robert Spencer under a contract dated April 17, 1798, for a sum of five thousand six hundred dollars. On January 24, 1801, the Commissioners inspected the building and found it incomplete. For this it may be reasonably inferred that the building must have been near completion at that time and, in all probability, was occupied in the early spring of 1801. This building was used for fifty years.

Early in 1850 the Grand Jurors reported that, having examined the state of the public buildings, they found that the Courthouse, Jail, and Public Offices were in a very dilapidated condition and that it was absolutely necessary to erect a new building immediately. April 24, 1850, the Court concurred with the Grand Jury to proceed with the preparation of plans and specifications. Then on April 5, 1851, the County Commissioners contracted with Samuel S Benson to build a Courthouse of Greek Doric design. The final cost of the Courthouse was sixteen thousand dollars. On May 20, 1851, the County Commissioners contracted with William J. Baer for the removal of this first courthouse and the county office building, to make room for a new courthouse. This building was completed and occupied in the late summer of 1853. It remained in use until September 26, 1904, a period of fifty-one years.

The idea for the third and present Courthouse came into being at the meeting of the February Grand Jury in 1903 when it reported that it viewed the Courthouse and found that the building was in bad condition, and that the number of offices were insufficient for the needs of the county. The Grand Jury for the May session of 1903 also recommended that a new Courthouse be built. The Court approved this report on July 7, 1903. The Commissioners met on January 2, 1904 and contracted with J. C. Fulton to make complete plans for a new Courthouse. July 18, 1904, the final plans and specifications as prepared by the architect were accepted and adopted by a resolution of the Commissioners. On August 16, 1904 bids for the construction of the Courthouse were opened and the contract was awarded to the firm of Caldwell and Drake for the amount of $247,444.00.

The Somerset County Courthouse was recently rededicated on August 13, 2003. The rededication ceremony was held to recognize the completion of the Somerset County Courthouse Restoration Project. The concept for the courthouse renovation project began in the early 1990’s with the creation by the State of Pennsylvania of a third local judgeship. The ongoing needs of the court system as well as the need to upgrade the building to meet modern fire, safety, and handicapped accessibility codes, underscored that building improvements were in order. The Somerset County Commissioners committed to completing the renovation project, and hired the firm of CelliFlynnBrennan architects in 2000 to complete the project design. The renovation project was begun in April 2002.

The interior of the buildings contained two courtrooms, but due to increasing demands on the court system, the county needed a third courtroom. Because the county had recently constructed a new office building, a new interior configuration was designed that replaced the former Recorder of Deeds office, the former commissioners offices, and other spaces, and replaced them with a third courtroom and expanded row offices. The insertion of the new courtroom into the building had to be carefully designed to maintain the building’s landmark status and respect its architecture. Major systems in the building were completely redesigned including HVAC, electrical, fire protection, and plumbing. Interior surfaces were restored, including the Italian marble, rotunda and monumental stair, while historic light fixtures were refurbished with new wiring and finishes.

The Courthouse today houses the preserved records of the county’s history dating back to 1795. The front doors of the Courthouse lead to marble stairs rising from three directions. The stairs lead to a central landing beneath the stained glass rotunda. The bright gold and green display is a false dome forming the base of the true copper dome seen from the outside of the courthouse. The copper dome of the Courthouse rises 135’ from street level. It is topped by a weather vane purchased with coins collected from the crowd of bystanders at the construction site. Since 1952 the dome has been illuminated at night. At an elevation of 2,190’ the Courthouse is the highest county seat in Pennsylvania. The Courthouse houses three courtrooms. Historically, the courtrooms have seen trials ranging from moonshining charges to murder, as well as church services, temperance and women’s suffrage rallies, public hearings, and even Klu Klux Klan meetings.

County Annex Office Building
300 North Center Avenue
Somerset, PA 15501
Somerset County Courthouse
111 East Union St.
Somerset, PA 15501