Somerset County Courthouse
The Somerset County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Somerset County Courthouse was constructed in 1904-06 by Caldwell and Drake of Columbus, Indiana, following plans prepared by J.C. Fulton, architect from Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The architectural style of the Somerset County Courthouse is Classical Renaissance Revival; the exterior is constructed of Indiana limestone with a native sandstone foundation, and the interior is decorated with Italian and Georgian marble.
The exterior of the Somerset County Courthouse is 135' high and approximately 146' by 112' at the base. The structure rises 2 stories and is topped with a balustrade, a terra cotta tile roof, and a copper dome, which is patterned after St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England. The dome rests on a central tower which is adorned with 4 clocks and with 4 pediments, each of which is supported by 4 unfluted columns; the dome is capped with a copper cupola and a copper weathervane. A semicircular portico, supported by 4, unfluted Corinthian capital columns, dominates the south face of the building on East Union Street. This side of the building contains 15 rectangular windows, 2 circular windows (on the second floor), and 3 large doorways containing double doors with glass panels. The west face of the building on North Center Avenue has a rectangular portico with 6 columns (identical to the other 4 columns) supporting a pediment that interrupts the balustrade. This side of the building contains 27 rectangular windows, one circular window (in the pediment), and one large doorway containing double doors with glass panels. The north face of the building contains 33 windows, 11 on each level: basement, first, and second floors (5 windows on the second floor have arched tops); no entry exists on the north side. The east face of the building has 28 windows (basement: 8, first floor: 10, second floor: 10) and doorways on the basement and first floor levels. The north and east faces have no porticoes in consideration of future expansion; the south and west porticoes are fronted with steps leading to doorways at the first floor level.
The interior of the Somerset County Courthouse contains a large, central, open staircase, which rises in 3 directions from the first floor to a mid-story landing and, thence, in two directions to the second floor, The staircase railings are walnut; the balusters and staircase posts are ornate, bronze-toned, cast steel. A candelabrum with 9 electric lights sits atop each of the 4 staircase posts. Surrounding the staircase, 12 marble-paneled columns rising from the first floor level to an upper level balcony above the second floor, support arches upon which rests the stained-glass dome. The dome contains 12, leaded, stained-glass panels, which are protected outside by the main exterior copper dome. The columns separate the staircase from hallways leading to county government offices on the first floor and to two courtrooms on the 2nd floor. The courtroom repeats the exterior decor including columns, cornice, and pediment.
The Somerset County Courthouse is a fine, ornate example of an ornate classical Renaissance Revival style public building.
Three Somerset County Courthouses, completed in the years 1801, 1853, and 1907, have stood on the elevated site deeded to Somerset County by Adam Schneider in 1795. The present Courthouse, prominent in the skyline of the Borough of Somerset, stands at 2,190' above sea level — the greatest altitude among courthouses in Pennsylvania. Representing a peak of the mountains from which it rises, it is visible from all directions and serves as a point of reference, geographically and historically.
The elegant and permanent form of the Somerset County Courthouse illustrates the vision of the architect and the craftsmanship of the builder. The heavy sandstone foundation bears a structure which rises through decorative marble, bronze, and walnut to a bright and spacious stained glass dome, surmounted with a weathervane in tune with the lightest breeze. The progression from solidarity to flexibility — from earth to sky — complements the location of the Courthouse atop the Alleghenies and preserves an appropriate atmosphere for judicial activity which rests in a firm Constitution and responds to the varying-elements of human circumstance. The architectural features — the grand staircase, the quietly dignified courtrooms, the columned porticoes and balustrades, and the stately, domed tower — distinguish the material of the Somerset County Courthouse and combine elegance with permanence, bringing life to the form.
The Somerset County Courthouse rises nobly in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania; its topographical prominence highlights the grace of its design and the stature of its activity. Representing a unique integration of location, form, and function, the Somerset County Courthouse signifies movement toward integrity and exemplifies this movement in its presence, its bearing, and its conduct of civil affairs.
Archambault, A. Margaretta (ed.). A Guidebook of Art, Architecture, and Historic Interests in Pa. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1924.
Matthews, Archibald M. "The Somerset County Courthouse is Superior." Laurel Messenger, XIX, No. 1 (February 1978): 1-3.
Banner, Robert G. Sketches of Somerset. Berlin, Pa.: Berlin Publishing Company, 1954.
Sesquicentennial Committee, The Somerset Sesquicentennial. Pittsburgh: W.C. Johnston Company, 1954.