If you’ve ever visited Uniontown, PA or driven west on Route 40 through Fayette County, it’s likely that you’ve noticed the giant cross at the crest of the mountain. Wanting to find out more about this giant monument, I decided to take a short trip to visit the Jumonville Cross.
The Jumonville Cross, or the Great Cross of Christ as it’s officially known, is a 60-foot-tall white cross that sits atop Dunbar’s Knob, high above the last (or first) ridgeline between Pittsburgh and eastern PA. It is located on the property of the Jumonville Camp and Retreat Center, and visitors are welcome to climb the hill to check out this interesting and beautiful spot.
History of the Jumonvile Cross
The Jumonville Cross can trace its history back to the years prior to World War 2. However, the land here has played a role in US history for much longer than that.
In fact, it was at Jumonville Glen, less than a mile from where the cross stands today, that the first shots of the French and Indian War were fired by future American general and President, George Washington. These shots would reverberate around the world, starting the Seven Years’ War and leading directly to American independence.
The land that is now part of the Jumonville Camp and Retreat Center became an orphanage for children after the Civil War, and then later became a YMCA camp before finally being donated to the Pittsburgh Conference of the Methodist Church in 1941.
The idea for a giant cross atop Dunbar’s Knob was first formulated at this time, and children even collected coins to help fund its construction. However, a metal shortage during World War 2 delayed its construction until after the war.
In 1948, the process began in earnest, and in September 1950, the cross, constructed of locally-made steel, was dedicated.
The cross is stark white in color and stands 60 feet tall without any visible supports. Despite this, the interior is an engineering marvel and the cross can actually withstand winds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
It sits atop a base of 183 tons of concrete and weighs approximately 47,000 pounds. It is truly an impressive structure and is said to be the largest cross in Pennsylvania.
Visiting the Jumonville Cross
Despite the fact that the Great Cross of Christ sits on the grounds of the privately-owned Jumonville Camp and Retreat Center, it is open for visitors daily from dawn until dusk.
This camp is located off of Jumonville Road, which runs along the crest of Chestnut Ridge starting from Route 40 next to the historic Summit Inn. Use caution when turning off of Route 40 as sightlines are a bit challenging here due to the landscape.
While there is a narrow paved road most of the way to the top of the hillside, visitors are required to park at the bottom and walk up the half-mile path to the top of Dunbar’s Knob. All told, there is about 225 feet of elevation gain on this walk.
There is no official parking lot for the cross, but there is ample room for cars to pull off of the road along Old Braddock Road at the following coordinates: 39.884278, -79.644322.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]
Across the road, you’ll see a sign marking the entrance to the path along with a few rules that visitors are required to follow. These boil down primarily to being respectful of the site and only visiting during daylight hours.
While the path to the top is a bit steep, the fact that it’s paved makes it a relatively easy walk, though you do have to walk around two gates on the road, which prevents this from being handicapped accessible (In addition to likely be a little too steep).
If you need to stop to catch your breath (as I admittedly did once or twice), there are some great views to the west as you hike up the hillside. There are even a few benches in case you need to sit down, but, sadly, none of these are positioned to take advantage of the view.
Once you get close to the top of Dunbar’s Knob, the paved road changes to a flat walk across a grass-covered field, which is what you’ll find surrounding the Jumonville Cross.
At the top of the hill, the cross looks even more impressive than it does from the surrounding land as it towers above you.
Next to the cross, you’ll find some benches set up like church pews where you can stop and enjoy the beauty of this spot or take a moment of meditation and prayer. These benches are also a fantastic spot to visit to watch the sun set over western Pennsylvania.
In addition to the cross, take some time to enjoy the incredible view from this spot. It is said that you can see three states, nine counties, and upwards of fifty miles from Dunbar’s Knob. In fact, on a clear day, some say you can even see the top of the skyscrapers in Pittsburgh!
Also make sure to take a moment to read the information sign near the cross that offers some history of the area and the cross, as well as information on what can be seen from this spot.
Once you’ve had a chance to soak in the beauty and peacefulness of this spot, simply retrace your steps back down the path for the half-mile walk back to your car.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my visit to the Great Cross of Christ in Jumonville. If you are a Christian, you are likely to find this spot to be both moving and meditative. However, even if you hold a different religion or aren’t religious at all, this is still an interesting and beautiful spot to visit thanks to the incredible view and the unique structure atop the mountain.
So, the next time you find yourself exploring the Laurel Highlands, make sure to take some time to check out the Jumonville Cross.