The village of Cato lies in the middle of the former Indian lands set aside in 1782 by the State of New York as payment to Revolutionary War veterans.
Although settlers came into the area prior to 1800, the village itself dates back to 1805 when Platt Titus “felled the first tree.” The settlement was originally named “Jakway’s Corners,” after Dr. John Jakway, a Vermonter who became the first permanent resident in 1809.
Cato’s first mill was erected by another Vermonter, John Hooker, in 1818 on a site which was home to milling operations for over 160 years. In later years, Cato boasted a tannery, a machine shop and foundry, which turned out plows and other agricultural equipment, wagon factory, cigar and wheel hub manufacturers, as well as a variety of merchants.
In 1869, after several attempts, the Southern Central Railroad finally completed a line between Auburn and Fair Haven, boosting the economy of the village, as well as the entire area. The railroad, later under the banner of the Lehigh Valley, remained in operation until 1953. Several years ago the north portion of the right- of-way was converted into a county multi-use recreational trail: it is hoped that extending the trail southward to Weedsport will be undertaken in the near future.
Cato, like most other places, has had its share of devastating fires. In 1918, an entire block went up in smoke under suspicious circumstances, demolishing a large department store as well as other businesses, and threatening the rest of the village. The buildings were replaced, but the Cato Fire Department owes its existence to this disaster which proved the need for aid beyond the informal “bucket brigade.”
The basic design of the village varies little from 1875; most new housing construction has taken place to the south, east and west of the “four corners,” adding several new streets. Cato continues to be a friendly, rural village with caring people and a broad spirit of cooperation.