Commonwealth Journal

October 12, 2013

End of an era quickly approaching for historic Somerset motel

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

The oldest motel in Somerset may soon be torn down to make way for an assisted living facility.
The 70-year-old Economy Inn, formerly Somerset Court Motel, at 422 Monticello Street, will be purchased by the city, according to Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler. A local nursing home facility will buy the property from the city and construct an assisted living complex, Girdler said.
The motel and apartment complex is still in operation. A city hall source said purchase of the motel property is in process “ ... but the city hasn’t written a check yet.”
Bill Baker, 218 Walnut Avenue, grew up in the motel. His late grandfather, A.C. Baker, built the motel in 1943 and operated it until selling the business to his son and wife, Rudy and Billie Baker, for $64,000 in 1960. The younger Bakers owned and operated the motel until 1984 when they sold it to Dr. and Mrs. M.H. Radmanesh for $130,000. The Radmaneshes after some 20 years sold it to a Patel family, the current operators. Sometime after the Bakers sold the motel, the name was changed to Economy Inn.
The original motel had 17 units, numbered 1 through 18, skipping No. 13 “ ... I guess because it’s an unlucky number,” laughed Bill Baker. An addition was built in 1951 that increased the number of units to 35, including efficiency apart-ments.
“The addition opened during the summer of 1951 at the same time the first boat-racing event was held on Lake Cumberland,” Baker said. Gates at Wolf Creek Dam were closed in December 1950 and the lake filled more quickly than expected because of heavy rains.
“Our efficiency apartments weren’t quite finished and guests for the boat races needed lodging so badly they helped us move furniture into the unfinished apartments,” Baker remembers.
“We were the first motel in Somerset to have telephones and paid television in rooms,” Baker recalled. The 21-inch black-and-white television sets were equipped with a coin box. Put a quarter in a slot in the coin box and you got TV for an hour.
Room rates were low, compared to today’s overnight charges. A single room was $3 a night and a room with two double beds was $12.
“Tobacco markets were flourishing then and a lot of buyers and auctioneers stayed there during the tobacco-selling season,” Baker said. “We had a lot of salesmen who stayed regularly with us.”
“It was a family operated business,” said Baker. “We lived at the motel. The office stayed open 24 hours a day. Sunday morning was the only time the office was closed while we went to church.”
Somerset Court Motel was built on what then was U.S. 27. In the mid-1950s the “Truck Route” opened, taking U.S. 27 on a straight route between Somerset and Burnside.
Before that, U.S. 27 went through downtown Somerset, down Wait’s Hill, through part of Johnson’s Block and then veered right through the railroad underpass and up what is now Old Monticello Street hill to Somerset Court Motel and beyond.
“My grandfather was a good friend of Arthur Prather,” said Baker. Prather was Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler’s contact person in Pulaski County.
 When the “Truck Route” opened, the elder Baker constructed a small road leading from the new U.S. 27 to the motel. A large Somerset Court Motel sign directed travelers off the “Truck Route” to the lodging place.
A.C. Baker was an entrepreneur. Before coming to Somerset, he owned a large truck stop north of Chattanooga near the Kentucky-Tennessee line. Initially, on coming to Somerset, he built and operated a skating rink at the Somerset Court Motel location.
The skating rink burned and the motel was built in its place. A service station and restaurant were adjacent to the original motel. All the while, A.C. Baker was involved in numerous business ventures.