Somerset County Courthouse

The clock at the grand dome of the Somerset County Courthouse will soon be replaced.

SOMERSET – The grand dome of the Somerset County Courthouse is perhaps the most prominent point of reference on Somerset’s skyline.

“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,” wrote members of the Historical & Genealogical Society of Somerset County in 1980 when they nominated the courthouse for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Somerset County Commissioner John P. “Pat” Terlingo described the building, built during the first decade of the 20th century, as “probably one of the most iconic courthouses, not only in Pennsylvania, but in the whole United States.”

The courthouse stands at an altitude of 2,190 feet above sea level, higher than any other courthouse in Pennsylvania – and in pride of place atop its dome is a historic clock, designed and installed in 1906 by the Howard Clock Co., of Lancaster.

For almost a century, many Somerset residents listened for the clock’s chimes as a reminder to head home for dinner at the end of the day – but the clock itself has not functioned for at least the past four years, and broken or outdated components have silenced its chimes for at least a decade.

“Over the years, it’s been neglected somewhat, and it’s nobody’s fault, but … if you don’t keep after it, and you don’t keep the parts working properly, it deteriorates,” Terlingo said.

Now, a coalition of community leaders led by Terlingo are raising money to put the clock back into working order. Groups involved include the Somerset County Board of Commissioners, the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce and Somerset Inc.

“When I first came into office four or five months ago,” Terlingo said, “a couple people came up to me and said, ‘Boy, it would be nice to get the clock running again.’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ … I touched base with the other two commissioners, and they said, ‘Go ahead and run with the ball,’ but this is a county project.”

Back in 1906, soon after the courthouse itself was built, the installation of the clock was funded by money donated by county residents, Terlingo said. Now, project leaders are hoping that history will repeat itself.

“We want to try to bring it back to the original state if we can, if the cost isn’t prohibitive,” Terlingo said. “I believe, and so do a lot of other people, that all the parts are up there to bring it back to the original state. That remains to be seen, but we’re going to work along those lines.”

After former Commissioner James T. Yoder stepped down last summer to become the county’s Area Agency on Aging director, Terlingo was appointed in August to serve out the rest of Yoder’s term, but agreed not to run for re-election. Thus, he will leave office at the end of 2019 – but, he said, he’s aiming to get the clock working again before his term ends.

To do that, he said, he hopes to raise at least $20,000 – and more, if possible, so that future county officials will have money available to pay for maintenance on the clock.

“I’d like to raise enough money to start a fund for the upkeep and care of that clock’s system,” he said.

The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies has set up a partnership fund in order to receive donations earmarked for the restoration of the clock.

“We’re very pleased to be able to play a partnership role in this project,” said Pamela Tokar-Ickes, director of the foundation’s Somerset County Community Funds. “Certainly, the courthouse clock is a piece of local heritage.”

A donation form is available online on the county’s official website and the Chamber of Commerce’s website. Soon, forms will be made available at various offices in the courthouse and the Somerset County Office Building, according to Terlingo.

“I want to thank the folks in the county for their generous thoughts and contributions,” Terlingo said.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Brad Zearfoss, the county’s planning director, got the commissioners’ approval to apply to the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies for a $5,000 grant to be put toward the repairs. Zearfoss said that he expects to hear by the end of April whether that application is successful.

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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