James Cato and his Family Houses

James Leary Cato was not a developer, but rather a serial builder of family homes.

He had been born in Stafford County and in January 1914, at age 23, he married 20-year-old Vanetta “Netta” Keys of Joplin, Va. He worked for the RF&P Railroad and opportunities were greater near the huge switching yard at Potomac Yard, so they purchased an empty lot on Braddock Avenue (now Ashby Street) in the St Elmo development in 1917 and moved north the following year, renting on LaVerne Avenue. In 1920 they put up the modest and well-proportioned bungalow on what is now 211 Ashby. Also sharing the house were his parents, James H and Mary, and a younger brother, William, a clerk for the railroad.

In August 1922 James H passed away at age 81 of kidney disease, complicated by heart disease and senility. His place in the house was taken by James L's other younger brother, Horace, a locomotive fireman. Even by the standards of the day this would have become crowded if James and Vanetta wanted a family of their own, and they did. Daughter Doris was born in 1923, followed a year later by Hazel Katherine. In October 1922 they purchased the lot now 307 Clifford and the following year put up the handsome brick foursquare. James, Vanetta and the kids moved in there, leaving Mary, William and Horace at the prior house.

In 1925 he sold the older house to his brother William, while Horace and his mother moved to the Braddock Heights. At the same time James bought a second lot on Clifford, now numbered 311 Clifford, and put up another bungalow there, possibly for Horace. By this time, however, it seems he was pining for a more rural lifestyle. In January 1927 he sold his newest house, 311 Clifford, to Hollis and Kaddy Clark. They held onto 307 Clifford, their own house, as a rental unit for several years but finally sold it in 1931 to Rozier and Edith Fairfax.