Somerset County

Basic Information

Address: 300 N Center Ave Somerset, PA 15501
Phone Number: 814-445-1400
County Seat: Somerset, PA

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Somerset County

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Additional Information

Year Organized: 1795
Square Miles: 1,074.9
Size of Board: 3 County Commissioners
Townships: 50 Townships and Boroughs Addison Borough Addison Township Allegheny Township Benson Borough Berlin Borough Black Township Boswell Borough Brothersvalley Township Callimont Borough Casselman borough Central City Borough Conemaugh Township Confluence Borough Elk Lick Township Fairhope Township Garrett Borough Greenville Township Hooversville Borough Indian Lake Borough Jefferson Township Jenner Township Jennerstown Borough Larimer Township Lincoln Township Lower Turkeyfoot Township Meyersdale Borough Middlecreek Township Milford Township New Baltimore Borough New Centerville Borough Northamptohn Township Ogle Township Paint Borough Paint Township Quemahoning Township Rockwood Borough Salisbury Borough Seven Springs Borough Shade Township Shanksville Borough Somerset Borough Somerset Township Southampton Township Stonycreek Township Stoystown Borough Summit Township Upper Turkeyfoot Township Ursina Borough Wellersburg Borough Windber Borough
School Districts: 11 School Districts Berlin-Brothersvalley Conemaugh Township Area Meyersdale Area North Star Rockwood Area Salisbury-Elk Lick Shade-Central City Shanksville-Stonycreek Somerset Turkeyfoot Valley Area Windber
Population: 77,742
Medium Income: $43,597
County History:

Somerset County is located in the southwestern portion of Pennsylvania known as the Laurel Highlands. It is bordered on the north by Cambria County, on the east Bedford County, on the south by the State of Maryland and on the west by Westmoreland and Fayette Counties. Most of Somerset County is a high plateau or tableland, located between the crest of the Allegheny Mountains on the east, and Laurel Hill on the west. Elevations range from 1,040 feet in Southampton Township, to the 3,123 feet of Mount Davis, Pennsylvania's highest point. The County's land area of 1,085 square miles (seventh largest in the state), lies almost entirely in the Ohio Drainage Area.

The written history of Somerset County dates to the time of the French and Indian War, when military expeditions developed roads opening the area for settlement. In 1755, General Edward Braddock and his English troops, accompanied by George Washington, crossed the southwest corner of Somerset County in their unsuccessful attempt to conquer the French controlled Fort Duquesne. Braddock's Road or Trail, now known as U.S. Route 40, was a first step in developing and settling Somerset County.

In November 1758, the English, under General John Forbes and his army, tried once again to secure Fort Duquesne. This expedition carved a new trail over the Allegheny Mountains. The force was successful in securing the land they crossed including Fort Duquesne, as English possessions. Forbes' Road, which was a result of this quest, roughly parallels what is today U.S. Route 30. This trail also provided access to the Glades; the natural meadows around the headwaters of the streams in the center of Somerset County.

Differences arise as to the identity of the first permanent settlers of Somerset County. Trappers, hunters, and traders had occupied temporary settlements at early dates along what later became Braddock's and Forbes' Road. The County had been crossed and re-crossed by an estimated 10,000 soldiers before 1768. Several of these soldiers returned to settle in the County. One of the first permanent settlements to leave a written record is the German Baptist religious group, which had cleared farms in the Glades by 1760 and established their church in the vicinity of the Village of Brotherton. Further south, a group of Swiss and German immigrants laid out the town of Berlin and established a church and school in 1784. Nine families were living in the region known as Turkeyfoot in 1768. The name of the region is derived from the pattern formed by the jointure of three rivers in the southwestern part of the County. Eighteen or twenty families made up another group of early pioneers, the Jersey Settlement, founded in 1770. These people came to Turkeyfoot from the colony of New Jersey in search of better land.

In March 1768, an expedition was sent by John Penn (grandson of William Penn) to inform the settlers in the western territory that most of what is now Somerset County - with the exception of a strip of land known as Alleghany, Northampton, Southampton, Fairhope, Larimer, and Greenville Townships - was forbidden territory that still belonged to the Indians. The settlers ignored the proclamation and continued clearing the dense forest. With the signing of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in November 1768, the Indians relinquished their rights to the land in Somerset County. After this treaty, Somerset County gained more settlers, roads were improved due to general use, turnpikes were chartered, mills, tanneries, and small shops were established, and boroughs and townships were formed.

Harmon Husband came to this area in 1771 after fleeing from North Carolina where he had protested unfair British taxation. The enraged North Carolina governor placed a bounty on his head so he left the Carolinas, assuming the alias "Tuscape Death". Attracted to Somerset County by the presence of an old friend, Isaac Cox, Husband became a prominent citizen here and later a member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. It was Harmon Husband who petitioned the legislature in 1790 to form a new county west of the Alleghany Mountains. On April 17, 1795 the Pennsylvania Legislature passed an Act organizing Brothersvalley, Turkeyfoot, Quemahoning, Milford, Elk Lick and Stonycreek Townships into Somerset County from Bedford County. The newly formed county had 1,250 residents.

Since this time, the boundaries of the County have been changed twice. In 1800, the area expanded with the annexation of the southwestern corner of Bedford County. Then in 1804, a large northern section of the county was lost to the creation of Cambria County.

With the development of county government, a county seat was needed. The Act of Assembly, which proclaimed Somerset a county, stated that the court should be held in Brunerstown, a rural settlement which Harmon Husband had been influential in establishing. The name of the village was change to Somerset. A stone courthouse was completed in 1801. The two-story brick building was finished in 1853, and remained in use until 1904. The second courthouse was removed, and the third, which stands today, was built between 1904 and 1906. The Somerset County Courthouse was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Somerset County's municipalities continued to grow and reorganize, forming the present-day 25 townships and 25 boroughs. In the year 2010, the total population of Somerset County was 77,742.

Agriculture was the main source of income to the early settlers. Rye, corn, potatoes, and wheat were the major crops. Farmers also often used furs, whiskey, ginseng, and maple products to barter for necessities. During the 1780's rye became the primary product of the area because it could be distilled into whiskey and transported as a liquid. When the government started to tax the liquor, the result was the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, which George Washington quelled in 1794.

In the early nineteenth century the National Road (U.S. Route 40) and Pennsylvania Road (U.S. Route 30) were heavily traveled routes to the west. Consequently, inns and taverns appeared along these routes. Farm production increased during this period, along with grazing, and dairying. The nineteenth century was also the period when producing maple sugar derived goods was commonplace. The maple sugar business was a family industry that produced thousands of gallons of syrup and more than one million pounds of sugar. By 1871, railroad construction began in Somerset County, making possible the commercial shipping of coal and lumber. During this era, the population increased to 33,000 in 1870.

The development of coal and timber resources dominated events at the turn of the century. Coal is one of the County's most abundant minerals and has been commercially mined here since the 1870's. The B&O Railroad significantly assisted in the development of the northern end of the County in the 1890's. Due to these developments, companies like Berwind-White Coal Mining Company and E.V. Babcock Lumber Company emerged as industrial giants. Coal mining brought with it company towns and European immigrant laborers. As a result, the population of Somerset County grew by approximately 8,500 inhabitants between 1890 and 1900, reaching 45,810. Somerset County coal is sold both domestically and abroad for power production and metallurgy.

In 1920, coal production peaked, and this industry's boom period stabilized while lumbering became a memory. Coal mining merged with farming as the two most important agents of the County's economy. In 1930, a dry summer lead to a poor farming season, and in 1932 coal production plummeted to half of its 1927 level.

During the Depression Era, "Pinchot Road" construction provided employment for many miners. Despite poor economic conditions, the County population remained healthy at almost 81,000 in 1930. As the region recovered from the Depression the County reached its highest level ever of 85,000 in 1940. Natural gas production in Somerset County dates to the 1950's with the discovery of the Johnstown and Boswell Fields.

Construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike helped lift Somerset County out of this low economic period, bringing new industries to the area. Tourists arriving by the National Highway, the Lincoln Highway, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike created a new Somerset County industry. Today the County attracts tourists from distant places as well as regular visitors from Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. areas; who maintain vacation homes in the area to enjoy such activities as hunting, fishing, and skiing. Somerset County boasts three state parks, several state forest areas, and two major ski and convention centers. Today tourism, manufacturing, coal mining, and agriculture are the major economic forces in Somerset County.

In recent history, Somerset County has experienced two national events, the Quecreek Mining Rescue and the crash of United Airlines Fight 93. Both of the events brought Somerset County to the national stage.

On September 11, 2001, the entire nation was stunned by terrorist attacks. Somerset County was especially shaken when hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Stonycreek Township, Somerset County, killing 45 passengers. In the years since, a permanent, national memorial was erected. Every year since September 11th, people from around the world have visited Fight 93 Memorial.

On July 24, 2002, nine miners were trapped after accidentally digging into an abandoned mine, filling the mine with water, trapping the miners. The collapse received national media attention, and within days drilling and mine rescue teams from around the eastern seaboard converged on Lincoln Township, Somerset County. The miners were trapped 240 feet below ground for over 78 hours. Then on July 28, the drilling teams managed to drill a 30-inch diameter hole and lower a cage to rescue the miners. Since the rescue, the nine Quecreek Miners have made full recoveries. There is a memorial on site where the rescue took place in Lincoln Township. Due to these two extraordinary events, President George W. Bush named Somerset County "America's County".

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