By Joseph Freitage, ’05, revised by William Urban, 2009


            John M. McCutcheon was born October 13, 1830, in Steubenville, Ohio. At age his family moved to Washington, Randolph County, Illinois,[1] where John later helped found the local railroad—the Centralia and Chester—which became the Illinois Central. In 1868 he was elected to the legislature in Springfield, a position he held for two years; in 1869 he married Fannie W. Bruer, then two years later moved to Monmouth.[2] It is likely that he came to join his wife’s family—Jane Bruer had bought property on Maple Street in June of 1867, then transferred it to John Bruer in 1871; John McCutcheon bought it in 1877.

            Information about his early career is not easy to find. The 1880 census has John M. McCutcheon, 50, white male, retired, father born in Ireland, mother in Ohio; Fannie, 40, born in New Jersey, as were both her parents; John B, age 9; Mary, eight months old, born the previous September; and Mary Bruer, sister-in-law, 50. Awkwardly, there was a McCutchan family in Monmouth and Warren County whose name editors insisted on spelling McCutcheon, and one prominent member of that family, Dr. James Fulton McCutchan, was almost the same age and even more prominent (when the doctor’s brother died in 1907 under his unavailing care, the obituary spelled both names with –eon). To make matters worse, J. F and J. M. were so commonly used instead of their given names, that the confusion became worse.

            This was not a problem for family members, except perhaps in explaining to friends what the problem was, but it complicates the task of the modern researcher. J. F. McCutchan not appearing regularly in the censuses before 1910 did not help.

            John McCutcheon’s election to the office of mayor in 1877 indicates that he was a man of substance and trust, but we know little about the details of his activities. City Council records, however, and the local newspapers provide abundant information about what he did during his term in office—he was a man of vision, energy and common sense.


On May 6, 1878, McCutcheon was elected mayor of Monmouth.  As he addressed the aldermen for the first time McCutcheon said,


On assuming the responsibilities of my position, I am much encouraged by the fact that you, gentlemen, with whom I am associated, are old and reliable citizens of our pleasant and growing city.  Some of you are among the first settlers and therefore well qualified to protect the interests of the people.[3]


McCutcheon went into more depth on the goals of his administration as he explained in that address that he wants to spend money to make improvements within the city, but he wanted to leave the office with a surplus of money for the next administration.[4] 

McCutcheon then made appointments of all officers in his administration.  After appointing officers, the first official business that he encountered was a petition for a sidewalk on the east side of Maple Street stretching from Locust Street to Warren Street.[5] 

On May 14, 1878, the sidewalk that was petitioned to be built was approved.  The next piece of business was to decide the grade of the sidewalk. The project was then turned over to the city engineer, McClanahan. The next action, which took place on June 3, 1878 by McCutcheon, was to appoint McClanahan to draw a map of Monmouth and the surrounding countryside. McClanahan was authorized to construct a drainage system for Monmouth as well.[6] In a section of text containing obscure Illinois laws the drainage laws for Illinois are explained in depth. This section of text helps to clarify what the drains were being installed for and what standards they had to meet.  According to The Past & Present of Warren County, Illinois 1877 the drainage laws were:



Whenever one or more owners or occupants of land desire to construct a drain or ditch across the land of others for agricultural or sanitary purposes, the proceedings are as follows:

1st.  File a petition with the clerk of the town board of auditors in counties where there is township organization, or in counties not so organized with the clerk of the County Court, starting the necessity of the same, its starting point, route and terminus; and if it shall be deemed necessary for successful drainage that a levee or other work be constructed, a general description of the same shall be made.

2d. After filing, two weeks’ notice must be given by posting notices in three of the most public places in such township through which the drain, ditch or other work is proposed to be constructed; and also, by publishing a copy thereof in some newspaper published in the county in which petition is filed, at least once each week for two successive weeks. The notice must state when and before what board such petition is filed, the starting point, route, terminus and description of the proposed work. On receipt of the petition by the clerk of either board as before mentioned, it is his duty to immediately give notice to the board of which he is clerk, of the fact, and that a meeting of the board will be held on a day to be fixed not later than sixty days after the filing of said petition, to consider the prayer of the same; and it is further the duty of the clerk, to publish a notice of the filing of the petition and the meeting of the board to consider it, by posting the same in the three most public places in the township or county. On the hearing, all parties may contest the matter, and if it shall appear to the board that the work contemplated is necessary, or is useful for the drainage of the land for agriculture and sanitary purposes, they shall so find and shall file their petition in the County Court, reciting the original petition and stating their finding, and pray that the costs of the improvement be assessed, and for that purpose three commissioners be appointed to lay out and construct the work. The costs of the hearing before the town board is to be paid by the petitioners. After the commissioners are appointed, they organize and proceed to examine the work; and if they find the benefits greater than the cost and expense of the work; then it is the their duty to have the surveyor=s plans and specifications made, and when dine report the same to the court, before which parties can be heard prior to confirmation. The commissioners are not confined to the route or plan of the petition, but may change the same.  After report of commissioners is confirmed, then a jury assess the damages and benefits against the land damaged or benefited.

As it is only contemplated in a work of this kind to give an abstract of the laws, and as the parties who have in charge the execution of the further proceedings are likely to be familiar with the requirements of the statute, the necessary details are not here inserted.[7]


The next ordinance that Mayor McCutcheon put into place was a twenty-five dollar reward for the arrest and conviction of every burglar who committed the offense within the city limits. In the afternoon session on June 3, four hundred dollars was set aside to build a bridge on the eastern extension of Broadway, just east of the Chancey Hardin residence.[8] 

On September 2, 1878, numerous sidewalks were authorized to be built in Monmouth. They were to be either raised plank sidewalks or built of brick. A well was authorized to be built in Cobune Park. The next business handled by the city government was an invitation which Mayor McCutcheon received from Quincy’s mayor to travel to Springfield, Illinois to participate in a Mayors’ Convention. The convention was to deal with the welfare of city governments within Illinois. Mayor McCutcheon accepted the invitation.[9] On December 2, 1878, the bridge east of town on Broadway St. was authorized to be built. The city drain project was passed as well. The city engineer was left in charge of all issues in dealing with the drains. The last issue that Mayor McCutcheon dealt with was a petition for street lamps to be added in front of the Monmouth Gas Company, which he authorized.[10]

McCutcheon entered the mayor’s office intending to accomplish many improvements in the city of Monmouth. John McCutcheon did this by creating the various sidewalks, the bridge on Broadway St., and by passing the other ordinances. He achieved what he intended to when he took office: McCutcheon left the city with money and the improvements that were put into place. John McCutcheon was a successful mayor because he accomplished what he had set out to when he took the office. 

In the next decade more information about him became available. He did not appear in the city directory of 1874-75, but that of 1885-86 indicates that he lived on South Maple (318 South 9th) in a house still standing in 2009. The structure is too large to be attractive to modern families and would be very difficult to heat; however, it has not suffered the usual fate of most of the city’s fine Victorian era homes—to be subdivided into apartments and eventually left to decay—but has additions that make it suitable for modern life.

            The city directory of 1893-94 indicates that he was a railroad manager, with his son, John living with him and working as a railroad clerk. Four years later he became the business manager of the Evening Gazette, a post he held for two years. This became a respectable small newspaper, but did not supplant the Atlas and the Review, which were the outlets of the Republican and mainstream Democratic parties.[11] He was a Presbyterian, but it is not clear which of the several congregations he had joined.

            The census of 1900 found him aged seventy, living at home, with his daughter, now twenty, attending college.[12] Mary Bruen McCutcheon (Mrs. Thomas Brockmann) graduated from Monmouth in 1905. He began to sell off his property in 1898 and 1899, then the last parcel May 29, 1901.

            About 1904 he left Monmouth. The census of 1910 finds him in Mineral Wells Ward 3, Palo Pinto, Texas, with his wife and daughter, working in a flour mill. Listed next to his family was his brother, William McCutcheon, aged 61, and wife, 60.

            In January of 1917 John McCutcheon died in Greeley, Colorado, after several years of poor health. His son was the owner of a hardware store, his daughter a teacher. Fannie survived. The obituary in the Monmouth Review put the adjective Honorable before his name, a tribute to his trusty service as mayor decades earlier.


[1] The census of 1850 indicates that his parents were William and Rachel McCutcheon, aged 63 and 40, with children, John, 20; Margaret, 14; Martha 12, Sarah, 10, Elizabeth 4, and William 2. The census of 1860 puts Rachel at 56, living with John in Sparta. John is an expressman by occupation. The father being deceased, he is caring for his brothers and sisters, including a new brother, Joseph, aged ten, with the help of a German-born servant.  By 1880 she has moved to Weld, Colorado, to live with her son William and his wife Fannie.

[2] Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois (Chicago: Kett, 1877), 216; obituary in the Monmouth Review (January 16, 1917); Illinois Database of marriages gives the date 7-9-69, in Warren County, with the bride named Brenen; the census of 1870 for Warren County gives the name Bruer, with Jane Bruer, 65, widow, with daughter Mary, 40, and seven female student boarders (James was living in the Baldwin House hotel).

[3] Minutes 1865-1879, Monmouth City Courthouse, page 585.

[4]  Minutes 1865-1879, Monmouth City Courthouse, page 586.

[5] Minutes 1865-1879, Monmouth City Courthouse, page 588.

[6] Minutes 1865-1879, Monmouth City Courthouse, page 593-604.

[7] The Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois, 216.

8 Minutes 1865-1879, Monmouth City Courthouse, page 597.

9 Minutes 1865-1879, Monmouth City Courthouse, page 613 and 627.

10 Ordinances 1868-1891, Monmouth City Courthouse, page 197.

11 History of Warren County (Chicago: Munsell, 1903), 780. The Gazette had been founded in 1896, then in November of 1997 was consolidated with the Warren County Democrat; when it was incorporated as the Warren County Printing Company in 1901, he was the vice-president.

12 His birthday is given as October of 1829, that of his wife, June 1838, and his daughter, Mary B, as Sept, 1879.