The Lay of the Land

The Neebor Lee is not just a house. It is a compound. This was the feature the reeled me into buying the house. The main house is large; approximately 3700 square feet, with three floors. The central portion of this main building consists of the original stone structure that was built in 1785, when it was a simple two-story farm house. It was built as a father-son residence (more on that in a future post) with three rooms on the main floor (dining room, smoking room and parlor) and three rooms on the second floor (one large central closet and two bedrooms). Two staircases provide access to the second floor. Basically, everything in this original section of the house came in twos. It had two large interior fireplaces in the center of the structure. It had fireplaces on the structure’s two exterior end walls. It had two bedrooms on the second floor, each with its own fireplace. It was also constructed with two front doors owing to its two-family heritage.  This original section of the house still has its post-revolutionary war charm. Practically every door in this section has a rim lock and hardly a doorknob can be found (18th century homes typically had latches rather than doorknobs). Many of the original doors are still present in this section of the house.

The layout of the Neebor Lee homestead.
The layout of the Neebor Lee homestead.

In 1903, this main house was upgraded, bringing it up to the standards of an early 20th century mansion, with the addition of a third floor with two additional bedrooms and a 10 foot wide wrap-around porch. These upgrades resulted in what is considered a “holy ghost” colonial home. The “holy ghost” designation comes from the construction of an opening that can be found in one of the 3rd floor closets that created an open pathway between this upper floor and the attic. The purpose of this opening was to allow the spirits of the recently deceased to leave the house. But don’t worry, there are no ghosts in the house. For that matter, I don’t believe in ghosts, which may be the reason why I haven’t seen any. Thereafter, expansion of the house continued with major remodeling efforts being conducted in 1918 (wainscoting and inlaid wood floors) and additions being added to the rear of the house in the 1930s and 1950s (modern kitchen, family room, office, bathroom upgrades).

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The Neebor Lee house (on left) in 1872, while still a modest farm house with two floors. The carriage house (on the right) was moved to an adjacent property (where it still resides) and was replaced by the Mason Lodge.

Clustered near the main house are several outbuildings. One was originally the property’s summer kitchen and possibly the property’s original pre-1785 homestead. It was later used as a smoke house and possible as a wash house. In 1903, just when the main house was being remodeled to achieve mansion status, a second floor was added to this building along with a bathroom in order to make it usable for the owner’s servants. Based on the dimensions of this building, these servants were afforded very little space. There is only one small room on each floor, and the ceilings in each room are barely over six feet in height. And if you needed to use the bathroom, it was beneficial to be very thin since the space between the stairway and the wall of the hallway leading to the bathroom is barely two-feet wide.

A second outbuilding is the more interesting of the outbuildings. I don’t know the year it was built, but I do know from records presented to us when we purchased the house that it was originally constructed as a playhouse for children. And a large playhouse at that. It is approximately 30 by 25 feet in dimension, with an open ceiling and exposed wooden trusses. A  wooden stage where children performed puppet shows still exists. Below the stage there is a secret opening where the child puppeteers could perform without being seen by their audience. Its apparent that the persons who built this structure loved their children very much.

This playhouse didn’t originally reside on the Neebor Lee property. Rather, it was built on an adjacent property and lifted off its foundations and rolled on logs to its current location. This new location was originally the location of a carriage house, which too was lifted off its foundation and moved to an adjacent property in order to make room for the playhouse. This carriage house still resides on the adjacent property and is visible from the Neebor Lee’s driveway. Bear in mind that all of this work was done using manual labor. There were no cranes or heavy trucks to move these buildings. Rather, these moves were performed using old-fashioned muscle and sweat. It is believed that these structures were moved between 1903 and 1910.

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The playhouse, now referred to as the “Mason Lodge”, in its original location (circa 1900).
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The Mason Lodge being lifted off of its foundation in preparation for its move to the Neebor Lee property. The Neebor Lee house can be seen in the background. The appearance of the third floor of the Neebor Lee house dates the photograph as post-1903.

Once in its new location, the playhouse was upgraded for adult use, and was specifically used as a meeting lodge for the local Freemasons. In the process, it became the ultimate man-cave. Looking inside the building today, which has remained unchanged for over 50 years, right on down to the stuffed animal heads still hanging on the walls, you can’t but help feel the elevated levels of testosterone pulsing through this building. The Influence of the Freemason’s is still apparent, from the porcelain skull that is cemented into the structure’s stone fireplace to an interior light that is still set up to shine horizontally through a large round window for the purpose of notifying the local members of the society that a meeting was about to occur. We have thus christened this building the “Mason Lodge”.

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The interior of the Mason Lodge

Other structures still remaining on the property include the homestead’s old ice house, which is located below ground beneath the Mason Lodge, and an annex located at the rear of the Mason Lodge, over the entrance of the ice house, that was used as a workshop. In addition, an exterior stone oven can be found off by itself more than 100 feet from the Mason Lodge and Servant House. Its specific use is unknown to us, but the presence of rusted beer cans inside of it would suggest that at least in more recent years it served as a casual place to hangout, perhaps by teens, far from the main house.

It is these outbuildings that particularly attracted me to the property. It is also likely the reason why the house and property remained unsold for more than a year on the real estate marketplace. Although the main house is in fairly good shape, the outbuildings are in disrepair from many years of neglect. Upon sight alone, it is obvious that much labor and cash is needed to save these buildings. For many of today’s younger home buyers, who often don’t have the skills, cash or desire to get themselves into long-term renovation and restoration commitments, there was much not to be desired about the Neebor Lee. What many likely saw as a headache, however, I viewed as a long-term hobby that would likely keep me busy over the next 10 years if not more.  Also, I love history and I did not want to see history lost due to neglect. I was up for the challenge.

My long term visions are such: stabilize each of the outbuildings to prevent further decay. I would then ultimately upgrade the Servant House for use as a guest house. I would also restore the Mason Lodge, saving as much of the original elements as can be saved, including the puppeteers stage, a nook with a keyhole entrance that serves as a sitting area, the wood paneling and a pre-electric chandelier that still hangs from the ceiling. I also intend to try to save at least some of the taxidermy (I particularly like the moose head that hangs above the stone fireplace). The building itself will be converted into a recreation building, which will house my pool table and a big screen television that I currently have no place for. Electric service, although present, is also in need of a serious upgrade in both the Servant House and the Mason Lodge. As stated in my earlier post, we intend to make the Neebor Lee a destination; i.e. a place where our friends and family, particularly future grandchildren, will want to visit.

Unfortunately, some structures may be beyond saving. The workshop, in particular, may be beyond repair. Although the roof of this small structure appears to be in decent shape, the floor joists and the floor itself have rotted and, in is current condition, is unsafe.

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The Ice House.
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The Servant House
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The Mason Lodge

There is certainly quite a bit of work ahead, some of which is already being implemented. I’ll be providing periodic updates as the work progresses.

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