For its first 118 years, the Neebor Lee house was a modest two-story farmhouse that was occupied by farmers, tenant farmers or servants of the Gumbes family. In 1903, however, that would change.
On the last day of January of that year, Charles Wetherill Gumbes, Civil War veteran, surgeon, country doctor and owner of the Neebor Lee house since 1872, passed away suddenly of heart failure at the age of 61 years. Upon this death, his property was split between his two sons. His youngest son, Francis Macomb Gumbes would retain that portion of the property which included the Broadview Mansion, which up to then had served as the Gumbes family residence. His oldest son, Charles Wetherill Gumbes Jr. would inherit the other half of the property, which included the Neebor Lee house.
The Neebor Lee house at that time was modest compared to the other Gumbes homes that existed in the area. The three homes in which Gumbes family members had resided up to that time, which included Broadview, Rose Lawn and Oakland Hall, were extravagant buildings in their day, having three floors, large porches and space available to board the family’s servants. Since Charles Jr., who was raised in the Broadview Mansion, intended to be the first Gumbes family member to actually live in the Neebor Lee house, he would change that. In May 1903, less than five months following the death of his father, Charles Jr. signed a contract with Charles S. Boileau, a local carpenter, to upgrade the two-story farmhouse into a three-story structure that would match the status and splendor of the other Gumbes homes.
The major upgrades would include the addition of a third floor with eight-foot high ceilings and a new gambrel-style roof, addition of a large porch that wrapped almost entirely around the house, the construction of a work shop building which would also serve as a new enclosed entrance to the property’s existing subterranean ice house (which was referred to by Gumbes family members as the “cave”), and conversion of an existing “wash house” (which was the former 18th-century “summer kitchen”) into servant quarters by adding a second floor. In an effort to constrain costs, the contractor was directed to re-use as much material from the old house as possible in the new construction. For example, a door removed from the main house was to now be used as a new door in the wash house/servant house. Windows removed from the rear of the main house were to be used as windows in the new workshop.
In one of those fortunate circumstances, a copy of the original contract document was provided to us when we moved into the house, thereby providing us with a detailed record of the farmhouse’s transformation. This contract, originally handwritten in cursive, is transcribed below:
Conditions and Agreement between Mr. Charles W. Gumbes and Mr. Charles S. Boileau Relative to Re-modeling of Farm House
This article made and concluded this ___________ day of May, one thousand nine hundred and three, by and between Charles W. Gumbes of Oaks, Montg. Co., Pa, of the first part and Charles S. Boileau, of same place, County and State of the second part to wit, as follows:
The said Charles S. Boileau for the consideration hereinafter written, doth agree to re-model the farm house of the said Charles W. Gumbes according to plans, specifications and details of the same, herewith accompanying form the sum of seventeen hundred forty eight dollars ($1748.00).
If said Charles S. Boileau doth further agree to repair certain outbuildings, viz ice house and cave annex and wash house, also according to specifications and details furnished herewith for the sum of two hundred thirty dollars ($230.00).
And also doth agree further to carry out to the best of his ability, in an honest and workmanlike manner, all of the requirements thus specified and hereunto subscribed. Signed,
In consideration whereof the said Charles W. Gumbes, on his part, doth agree to pay or cause to be paid the sum as above written of.
As follows: One third of the amount as thus agreed to be paid when the roof of the main building is fully completed including water conductors, outlets and inlets of the same, and dormer windows. Second payment of one third when porches are finished as above. And final balance when all work as herein specified, whether on main building alone or when outbuildings are completed, if so decided to be included in the present contract. Signed,
Charles. W. Gumbes
Specifications and Contract for Re-modeling House and Out Buildings for Mr. Chas W. Gumbes, Oaks, Pa.
The Farm House
- Old roof and roof timbers to be carefully taken down, and in place thereof a new roof story, with gambrel or curb roof; according to plans & dimensions, so as to form square rooms, 8 ft high from floor to ceiling; Old rafters and shingle laths to be used to best advantage as possible. Roof to be covered with (A No. 1) Cypress shingles eight inches to the weather; Said shingles to be dipped ten inches with Moss Green Shingle Stain (Cabot Brand).
Three dormer windows to be set on the front, and one double dormer on the rear in form similar to style of main roof. Gables and dormers to be shingled, and projecting eaves of the same to be trimmed with 2 ½ or 3 inch O.G. Moulding.
- Gables of main building to be built up with stone to shape of roof, so as to finish flush with old work. Chimneys to be extended and neatly finished above roof ridge. Said gables to be pierced for two windows each, one of each side of the chimney and corresponding in size with the other windows.
- All new windows to have box frames for weights.
- Stair case to roof story to have hand rails and balusters to correspond with other stairs.
- New floors to be laid on top of old floors in hall adjoining rooms of first floor and interlined with tar paper. Flooring to be good No. 2 N.C.Y.P. narrow widths.
- New base and wash boards to be placed in hall and said adjoining rooms, the same to be (6 inches) high and capped with (1 ½ “) moulding, making (7 ½ “) overall.
- Middle front door to be removed and new window with shutters placed instead. Shutters to confirm in style with those now in use, which are not to be removed.
- Two windows in rear of building to be removed and space thereof to be enlarged for doors for which a pair of second hand doors will be furnished by the owner.
- Paneled doors to be made to shut off old fire place in south room adjoining the hall.
- Plastering – Rooms in roof story to have two coats of good brown mortar and a white finishing coat. Exterior plaster on gables, and repair work where required to be of same kind of thickness as the old.
- Painting and hardware omitted from this contract except nails.
- Porches on front north and rear of building to be constructed in a plain substantial manner, width 10 feet and height not to be less than 8 ft to the eaves; and supported by a plate (5” by 8”) and (5”) square chamfered posts. Open timber construction projecting rafters of not less than nine inches and rounded at the ends. Thus, spaces between rafter and plate to be closed with crown moulding or equivalent. Roof whether of shingles or tin to be sheathed with finished side down, of double beaded (6”) wide wainscoting.
- Kitchen, laundry and pump house and pantry. These under the same rear porch construction according to drawing and details written thereon, and herewith accompanying. If roof of porches is decided to be shingles, these to be the same in quality as for roof of main building. If of tin, this to be the best quality of roofing tin interlined with tar paper. Tin painted on underside before laying. Raised seams – outer surface to be painted same color as the main building roof.
- Water conductors and tinning. Bracketed-moulding front conductors above curve hip of roof, falling toward centre, for use of tank on third floor and rear. A similar conductor at eaves of second floor roof pitch, falling from centre to each and from which perpendicular conductors fall to porch roofs. A similar bracketed conductor on porch roofs, falling from centre to corners and thence to perpendicular conductors to the ground. Those from main roof to porch (3”) diameter, from porch to ground (3 ½ “diam). These to be galvanized iron corrugated. Pipes conducting to tanks also (3 ½ “) diameter, and overflow (4” diam) emptying on the lower pitch of main building roof. The lining of roof conductors much be carried well up under the shingles and where porch roofs join the main building (whether of shingles or tin) much be securely flashed into heavy plaster of same.
- Portion of roof over kitchen to be sheathed with rough boards, as ceiling of the same is to be flat.
- Cellar to be cemented with Rosendale cement. Excavation and drainage to be furnished by the owner.
- A separate estimate is asked for this portion of the work to be done.
- Ice House and Cave Annex. These to have a new roof of good cypress shingles. Ice house to be divided by a floor, at level of sill of door, to be used as a work shop. Side facing road to be pierced for two windows, using window and shutters taken from rear of main building. South side to have one window using second hand sash now on hand. This is to be fitted with plain solid shutter. A trap door to be made in the southeast corner, and old steps secured to the same. Add such repairs to cave annex as may be needed.
- Wash house – This to be made habitable as follows. A new floor for 1st story so to give a 7 foot ceiling if possible. Flooring to be either hemlock or No. 3 Y.P. of ordinary widths. Building to be weatherboarded on outside, over the old upright siding, repairing with old material where required. For entrance, used the old front door taken from main building. Place one window on same side as the entrance and two on opposite side using the best of old sash on the premises. Inside walls of 1st story to be lined with such old material as may be available or with hemlock boards surface on one side. Make a winding stair case in the south end corner to the loft story. Place windows on each side and one on north end.
The new roof for wash house was accidentally omitted.
Note 1. All old material furnished or that may be available on the premises is desired to be made use of. All new material and labor to be furnished by the contractor.
Note 2. A separate statement is desired for work to be done on the outbuildings.
General Remarks: All work to be guaranteed to be done in a substantial and workman-like manner, with efficient and skilled labor, and all as detailed and specified herein, and in full accordance with such plans, details and measurements as furnished thereon. No extras, additions or omissions to be allowed except by mutual consent in writing or by witness.
Charles Jr. wasn’t yet done with the transformation, however. A playhouse that was constructed on the grounds of the Broadview Mansion for his and his brother’s use when they were children would be lifted off its foundation and transported to the Neebor Lee property, where it would placed adjacent to the Neebor Lee house in the location of a carriage house, which itself would be lifted from its foundation and moved to another location on the property. The children’s playhouse would be placed up against the rear wall of the workshop above the ice house. Charles Jr. would use this playhouse later in his adulthood as a meeting hall for the Free Masons. Hence, we now call this building the “Mason Lodge” or “Lodge”.
We have hypothesized that this was the time in the history of the house when it was given its name, Neebor Lee, which means “friendly meadow”. We have no records to verify this, but it would seem to make sense that with all the other Gumbes mansion’s having names, this transformed farmhouse would have been given one by Charles Gumbes Jr. at the time of its transformation.
Of the four Gumbes mansions, only two remain standing today. The original mansion, Oakland Hall, was lost many years ago. The property upon which it once stood is now a part of a large commercial complex consisting of hotels, professional buildings, restaurants and a Target Store. Broadview would be used as a summer residence by Francis Macomb Gumbes, who maintained a permanent home in Philadelphia, through 1941, after which it was largely neglected. After being subjected to looting, vandalism, and squatting, the Broadview Mansion would eventually be forclosed upon due to unpaid taxes in 1951 and subsequently sold to the local fire department for one dollar. Local residents have recently reminisced on Facebook about this mansion’s position in township lore as an abandoned haunted house and teenager hangout. It also had became a subject of a State Supreme Court battle in 1957 between the Gumbes family and the fire department, and in an ironic twist of fate, was burned down by that same fire department in 1962 at the request of the Gumbes family after the family had won back the title to the land.
Thus, the only two remaining Gumbes mansions are the Neebor Lee and Rose Lawn.