As the cemetery came into view, I spotted the monument I sought standing among the other stones – its size made it nearly impossible to miss. Taylor Cemetery, located along the Old National Road between Centerville and Brownsville, is the location of one of the most unique graves in southwestern Pennsylvania. I parked along the roadway that passes through the cemetery, just yards from the monument, and Zech and I got out to take a closer look at it.
We were barely out of the vehicle before another truck entered the cemetery and parked behind us. “Can I help you with something?” the man asked as he got out of his truck and walked over to where we stood.
“We just stopped to take some pictures of the monument,” I replied. “We’re passing through and I wanted to see it ourselves.”
“Passing through? Where are you from?” he asked. When I told him he scratched his head for a moment before responding. “You know about this clear up there? So what do you know about the monument?” the man asked. Before either of us could respond, he continued telling us the story of James McCutcheon’s monument, known by many early reports – and by some locals to this day – as “The Spite Monument.”
James, who is often referred to by his middle name, Shannon, in many early articles, was a wealthy farmer who lived near Centerville. The bachelor was born in 1824 and made his fortune when coal was discovered on his farm. When he died in 1902, his had an estate valued around $33,000, though some figure the estate was valued closer to $40,000, if not more.
Before his death James contracted T. B. Wright and Sons from nearby Brownsville to start construction of a memorial at the cost of $20,000. After James’ death, all of his possessions were to be sold and after his debts paid, a monument was to be erected in Taylor Cemetery, on a plot that was forty square feet. Around the plot a fence of some sort was to be built, with a monument in each corner in the style of the main monument.
The executors of his estate did their job well and a large obelisk eighty-five feet tall was erected on the plot. Let me repeat that – the monument was eighty-five feet tall. That is a little over eight stories tall. According to the gentleman we talked to (and I’m sorry I never did get his name) those eighty-five feet were above the ground. He stated that the monument had a base that went roughly eighteen feet into the ground.
Surrounding the monument is a low granite wall, with an obelisk in each corner. On the front of the memorial is engraved “James S. McCutcheon / 1824-1902.” In front of the memorial is a much smaller stone that marks James’ final resting place.
So what was James reasoning behind the monument? He didn’t want his sister to have any of his money. She had been his housekeeper and when she finally married, she moved away, leaving him alone. He built the monument to spite his sister and her family. If they left him alone on the farm, they were not going to get any of the money he acquired.
The memorial stood until July 27, 1936, when it was hit by a tornado. The top portion of the monument was ripped off, leaving only the eighteen foot base remaining. Sections of the monument were scattered over the cemetery grounds and remained there until the cemetery caretakers offered them free to anybody who would move them out of the grounds. McCutcheon had failed in his will to provide any money for the upkeep of the monument, so there was no money to rebuild the obelisk.
“My mother remembers it as she grew up,” the man concluded. “She grew up on the ridge over there and said it could be plainly seen from the house. And that is over half a mile away.”
We thanked him for the information before he left and after a couple more pictures we paid our respects before departing.
Note: When I initially researched James McCutcheon and his monument, a number of recently published books claim he spent his money on the memorial because he did not want his children to have his fortune. I’m not sure where they got this information, because none of the early articles state this. Every article I’ve read (from his death announcement to the storm that toppled the monument) states that he was not married, nor had any children. Our storyteller also confirmed James was a bachelor, so where these modern sources got this misinformation from is not known.