In a different era, before the wealthy began putting their mansions behind gates and hedges at the end of cul-de-sacs, the worthies of a town arrayed their large houses along the main street, to impress visitors with the town's importance and reassure residents of its permanence. Thus it was with the Town of Potomac and Mt. Vernon Avenue.
One of these houses has been beautifully restored as the Anne Welsh Salon, reminding us of the grandeur of The Avenue in its heyday. Another exists, but you need to use your imagination.
Next time you pass by St. Elmo's on foot pause and look at the building on the same side of Mt. Vernon, but on the opposite side of Del Ray Ave, now the Del Ray Pizzeria. If you can, in your mind's eye, unenclose the front porch and eliminate the brick addition on the north side, you will be rewarded with another of our grand houses. More of the original lines remain when viewed from behind, although the original stained glass above the rear door appears to have been removed in the last year or so. This was the house and office of the town doctor, Dr. Robert Yates.
The Initial Purchase
John and Sophie Gosseling, immigrants from Germany, had begun buying lots in Del Ray as soon as sales opened in 1894. They eyed the west side of Mt. Vernon Avenue between what is now Custis and Del Ray as promising and immediately purchased the southern half of the block. There they put up a substantial house (see the Gary-Hornthal House). In 1899 they bought the northern half.
Unfortunately, John Gosseling passed away in 1905 and Sophie began liquidating the property holdings in preparation for moving to the state of Washington. In 1907 she sold the house to up-and-coming John Gary and the still-vacant northern half of the block to Dr. Robert Yates. He put up another house, of similar size, the following year for his nascent medical practice.
The Doctor Is In
Robert J. Yates was born in 1864, seventh of eight children of Abner and Sarah Yates, a farm couple in Culpepper, VA. He graduated from William and Mary College, and married Gertrude Best in 1896 in her hometown of Brucetown, VA. He worked as a railroad clerk for about a decade, then enrolled at George Washington University to study medicine and graduated in 1908. In the meantime they had started a family, producing sons Paul in 1901, Janney in 1903 and Robert C. in 1904, followed by daughter Frances in 1909.