Days are numbered for a Somerset landmark at 400 East Mt. Vernon Street.
The building that houses Somerset City Hall, nerve center for city government since 1951, will be razed and a parking lot paved in its space when the city’s new energy hub is completed a couple of years down the road.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Program has approved an $8.5 million loan to build a new computerized energy center and city hall across the street from the existing city hall. Bids to construct the energy center will be advertised next spring and converting the existing city hall space into a parking lot is part of the project.
Somerset City Hall wasn’t a governmental building at the start and doesn’t really look like a city hall. Inside, offices are cramped along narrow corridors.
Nominated in the past for the National Register of Historic Places, the Art Deco-style building was constructed for an automotive repair shop in 1930 by W.C. “Leggs” Norfleet who was mayor of Somerset between 1922 and 1946. Norfleet was a very tall man with long legs, thus the nickname “Leggs.”
The nomination form for the historic places designation points out that the one-story building features an exterior of glazed yellow brick with concrete capping at the roofline. The central bay of the building displays a prominent rectangular tower with angular streamlined brick-work. Inset into the tower are bands of structural glass.
Since the structure’s conversion into city offices, the building has been altered with new doors, a fixed metal canopy and remodeled interior, the nomination form noted. A rear section of the building served as a city jail back when city courts existed, and the east end was a fire department until the main station was built on South Central Avenue.
Clarence Love, retired Somerset city clerk, recalls that Norfleet later used the building as a Studebaker garage and Shell service station. The building was converted into city hall during the administration of Mayor A.A. Offutt.
Offutt, a very popular but crusty “what you see is what you get” type of mayor, owned an insurance agency and served as a part-time mayor for a total of about 20 years. He insisted being mayor of Somerset was not a full-time job, and it probably wasn’t at the time.
A “Hello, how are you?” greeting often triggered an Offutt grin and wry response: “And why do you care, you’re not a doctor.” He loathed dull meetings and long-winded speakers, often getting up and walking out without apology.
Love was city clerk for 29 years, from 1955 to 1984. His wife, Mabel, a 20-year city employee, was city assessor and manager of the Sewer Department.
Members of Somerset City Council who approved the conversion of the building into a city hall sound like a who’s who of early Somerset: Varna Holt, Otis Chaney, Chester Copeland, Dr. A.A. Weddle, W.H. Cundiff, Roy E. Greene, Ira Bogle, Bob Muse, Victor Sams, G.W. Rowbottom, Ed Bugg and Clyde H. Ping.