Commonwealth Journal

Features

July 11, 2013

New Day Dawns for a Landmark Somerset Home

(Continued)

Somerset —

The old South Main Street went up the hill toward the railroad depot and the old Monticello Street exited off South Main through a railroad underpass and toward U.S. 27.
The new four-lane thoroughfare that is now South Main Street in the former Johnson’s Block area has been called one of the most beneficial traffic improvements in the city’s history. The 1.2-mile highway takes traffic atop Southern Railway tracks and Sinking Creek.
Progress has virtually obliterated Johnson’s Block, a stretch of South Main Street that at one time was the heartbeat of Somerset. The north end of Johnson’s block is at Dearl Whitaker Lane, a small street leading east off South Main Street to High Street and Bourne Avenue. 
The late Somerset attorney John G. Prather Sr., a local historian, said the Johnson family owned a lot of property along the east side of the street in that block. At one time, there was a row of frame buildings in that area housing several offices and stores, Prather noted.
“Everything was tied to the railroad,” Prather said. The courthouse was at its current location, but many businesses operated along South Main and Monticello streets near the railroad depot. Cabs and streetcars hustled passengers to and from the depot and Fountain Square area. Somerset was “wet” in those days. “I believe there were seven saloons from Johnson’s corner to Griffin Avenue,” said Prather.
The focus of Somerset has totally changed since Johnson’s Block fell in disrepair and disappeared. New Monticello Street whizzes business activity mainly to a 12-mile strip of U.S. 27, running north and south through the west side of town between Somerset and Burnside. Downtown Somerset is an office and legal center around the courthouse. 
Johnson’s Block, if you cling to the name, is now blacktopped beneath a busy thoroughfare. The still-existing historical house among the trees seemingly shies from the disturbing approach of progress.

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