James Wesley Cates 1847-1918
Burlington, NC

Owner and operator of JW Cates Lumber Company 1885 (which later became the JW Cates Coal Company).

JW Cates rented the first post office box, got the first telephone number, made the first deposit in the first bank in Burlington, first treasurer of the Alamance fair of 1888, the first chairman of the City School Board, first chairman of Burlington School Board, Secretary of Chamber of Commerce, Alderman and Mayor of Burlington. 

The Alamance Gleaner - January 10, 1918

Leading And Prominent Citizen Passes Away at his home in Burlington Saturday Night.
Mr. James Wesley Cates, pioneer citizen, progressive business man, prominent in church and civic worker in the town and county, died suddenly at his home last Saturday night at 11 o'clock. His death comes as a great and sudden blow to the town, as he possibly ranked as the most prominent and influential citizen of the town for the past 30 years. About four years ago Mr. Cates was in an automobile accident that came near causing his death and resulted in injuries that probably hastened his death. He recovered sufficiently to take up his work again in the business world and was actively engaged up to the end. He was at his post all day Saturday, and although he complained for several days, he did not give up. After supper he went up town for the mail and got home about nine o'clock. About ten o'clock he was taken ill and physicians came and administered to him, but in half an hour he sustained a stroke of paralysis and died instantly. Thus passed a man who has meant more to Burlington than any other man connected with his history. He was born September 30, 1847, in the section of Orange county that later became a part of Alamance. His parents were William and Sarah Cheek Cates, and his mother is now living at his home at the age of 90 years. Mr. Cates remembered distinctly the names and features of seven grandparents and great-grandparents, 17 uncles and aunts, 15 great- uncle and one great-great-uncle, who died at the age of 104. He was married in 1869 to Miss Sarah Patterson, from which union three children survive. In 1885 he was married to Miss Sarah Scott of Virginia, and six children survive this union. A remarkable coincidence is the similarity in the manner of his death and that of his wife. She was stricken with paralysis on Saturday night twenty-two weeks before. Mr. Cates is survived by nine children, as follows: W. Luther Cates, Mrs. J. H. Vernon, Mrs. L. D. Perry and Misses Bertha, Verna and Julia Cates of Burlington; Jas. M. Cates of Greensboro; G. Robert Cates of Atlanta, Ga.; and C. Grady Cates of Roanoke, Va.; his mother Mrs. Sarah B. Cates; two brothers, W. M. and B. M. Cates of Tallehassee, Fla.; two sisters, Mrs. H. C. Zachary of Sanford, Fla.; and Mrs. Fannie Clark of Chapel Hill. The funeral was held Tuesday morning at 10 o'clock in the First Baptist church, Pastor M. W. Buck conducting the services. The Masons, Odd Fellows and Pythians of which he was a member, attended the funeral in bodies. The service was a unique an impressive one. Because of his great interest in every interest in his city, a few of his friends were given the opportunity to speak from their hearts.

It would be hard to estimate what Mr. Cates has meant to Burlington. He arrived in the city in 1880, when the town had 817 people. With twelve others in 1887 he organized the First Baptist church, of which he has always been a deacon and recently was made a deacon for life. He has been mayor and alderman of the city, and has been director of four banks and was president of one for awhile. In the establishment of the Burlington Graded School he was largely instrumental and was one of the first members of Board of Trustees. He was the last of the five original members of this board. He was secretary of the Chamber of Commerce for two years. Naming his activities is like giving a business directory of Burlington. The first Burlington postoffice box was rented by M. J. W. Cates and he was given the first telephone number and he made the first deposit in a bank of the city. For the past 20 years Mr. Cates has been engaged in selling fuel and all kinds of building material. His business life was a full one, but no fuller than his church and social life. A man of rare judgment and an assiduous disciple of duty, Mr. Cates developed all the best sides of his nature.

United States Department of the Interior National Park Service 


East Davis Street Historic District Alamance County, North Carolina

123 S Mebane Street

James Wesley Cates moved to the Burlington area circa 1880, having already established himself as a builder and contractor. He built this house in 1892 as his residence. He established J.W. Cates coal and wood company for fuel, lumber and other building materials, and worked as a building contractor. Cates became an active civic, social and religious leader in the community. He served as mayor, member of the board of alderman, county commissioner, chairman of the city school board, a founder of First Baptist Church, and a major supporter in many of Burlington's firsts, including telephones, post office boxes, and bank deposits. After his death in 1914, the family coal business was run by his daughter, Bertha, until her retirement in 1967. Miss Cates was a charter member of the North Carolina Fuel Merchants Association. Another daughter, Verna Cates Stackhouse, managed the King Cotton Mills for almost ten years. Bertha and Verna Cates lived in the house until1982 when it was deeded to J.W. Cates heirs. 

Statement of Significance

The East Davis Street Historic District, the core of Burlington's east end, consists of approximately five blocks of stylish middle-class Queen Anne, bungalow, and Colonial Revival houses, as well as one church and a gas station, built from the 1880s to the early 1940s by leaders of the town's industrial, business, and civic life. The 500 and 600 blocks of East Davis Street comprise the main spine of the district, with the intersecting streets of Mebane, Cameron and Tucker streets completing the district. Among the prominent early residents of the district were James Wesley Cates, mayor in the early 1900s, John M. Fix, prominent banker and civic leader, John R. Foster, long-time owner of the Foster Shoe Company on Main Street, and Dr. G. W. Stafford, co- founder of Stafford-Stroud Drug Company. Their stylish houses, built from the late 1880s to the early 1900s, are Queen Anne landmarks in Burlington. As the mansions of the Holt family have disappeared, these stylish frame houses are among the only surviving remnants of this initial era of industrialization in Burlington. 

Several women who played a large role in Burlington's affairs were long-time residents of the district. Miss Bertha Cates ran the J. W. Cates Company, coal, lumber and building materials, from 1914 to 1967, and lived in the family homeplace on E. Davis Street. Susie Stafford, principal of the nearby Maple Avenue Grade School, built a house next to her parents on E. Davis Street in the early 1900s. About 1940 nurse Faye Simpson built a Cape Cod cottage on Cameron Street with a bank loan that is said to be the first granted to a woman in Alamance County. 

Historical Background 

Cates built an ornate Queen Anne cottage for his family one-half block south of his business (James Wesley Cates House, 123 Mebane St.). Cates' role as a cornerstone of Burlington's civic and financial activities included his service as mayor, commissioner, and as a founder of the First Baptist Church. The stylish Cates residence was an advertisement for the variety of machine-made wooden trim available, including bargeboard, sunbursts, and fishscale shingles, and his skill in using them. He also apparently was responsible for at least one other house in the district, the Ella Andrews House at 115 Tucker Street.10 Less stylish than the Cates House, the Andrews House possesses a vernacular !-House form embellished with a projecting central entrance bay and a fancy porch with bracketed posts and a sawnwork railing. 

A number of strong women lived in the East Davis Street Historic District, and their houses memorialize their inspiring lives. Miss Bertha Cates, daughter of James Wesley Cates, ran the family coal business from her father's death in 1914 until her retirement in 1967. His other daughter, Verna Cates Stackhouse, managed the King Cotton Mills for almost ten years. They lived together in the Cates homeplace at 123 Mebane Street until the early 1980s. 

James Wesley Cates, a building contractor who moved to Burlington about 1880, built a coal, wood and lumber company along the railroad where Mebane Street intersected the tracks and East Webb Avenue.