The name “Cooper” is as inexorably linked to Somerset’s Fountain Square as any could be.
Perhaps that’s why it’s still jarring to drive by the in-progress renovation of Somerset’s city center and not see the bronze likeness of Sen. John Sherman Cooper standing sentinel at the entrance as it has done for over a quarter-century now — and he in spirit for much longer than that.
Traditionalists ought not fear. Plans are to put the late statesman’s statue back on the square — if in a slightly different sector of it — within a week’s time or so.
The Pulaskian Cooper was one of Kentucky’s most distinguished and admired to ever to walk the halls of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. Cooper served multiple terms — including three partials and two full (the latter from 1960 to 1972) — in the U.S. Senate. The first member of the Republican Party to be elected by popular vote to more than one term as a Kentucky senator, he set record for victory margin in the state in both his 1960s wins and also served as the U.S. Ambassador to both India and East Germany during his career. The honors and accolades assigned to Cooper are myriad.
In 1963, Cooper left a legacy right in the heart of his hometown of Somerset — he was born here on August 23, 1901, part of a prominent local family, and grew up inside its confines — by undertaking a task much like what Somerset is witnessing now. Cooper and his wife Lorraine restored the square in 1963, with a grand dedication ceremony on November 9 of that year proclaiming it as a “gift” to the community.
The revitalization of the square was needed after “old age took its toll” on the area, as noted by Lorraine Cooper at the time. A park was in place as early as 1801, in the county’s salad days, and evolved over time. In 1908, a fountain was erected at the square — a civic group called the Commercial Club raised a whopping (for the time) $1,250 to help fund improvements designed by R.H. Bartells — but after several decades passed, the square was in dire need of a facelift.