Today, on this Presidents’ Day holiday, my wife was inspecting the daffodils that are emerging along the edge of our front porch when she discovered a mysterious copper plaque attached to a small concrete block. This concrete block was sitting next to the last stone of the stone walkway leading up to the Neebor Lee’s front porch. The plaque is small; it is only one inch in width and three inches in length. Only a small portion of the plaque was visible; the rest was covered by soil. The small portion that was exposed had a green patina, therefore suggesting that is was copper.
My wife brushed away the soil and rinsed the top of the plaque to expose an inscription. The now-visible words on the plaque read,
I happened to be out about town when my wife discovered this mysterious plaque. When I returned home, she immediately escorted me to the front porch to show me her discovery. I read the words on the plaque and several questions popped into my mind. The first was, who is this John Ramsay? The second was, why is his name stamped onto a plaque next to my front porch?
To answer these questions, we both turned to the Internet using “Millbrook”, “Oscawana NY” and “John Ramsay” as Google search terms. My first search involved only the word “Oscawana” to determine where in New York this place was located. Google returned two locations, one of which was a lake in Putnam Valley, New York (Putnam County) and second of which was a park located near Crugers, New York (Westchester County). Combining “Oscawana” with the other two terms, we were able to narrow the location down to the location near Crugers.
In addition, the combined search yielded a single website published by a non-profit historical society called the “Croton Friends of History”. The society’s web page that was returned in the search was titled “Croton/History & Mysteries”, which was apropos considering the mystery that was now before us. A single line on that web page caught my eye. It was under a subheading called “Cortlandt Furnace” and it was a quote from a book written on the History of Westchester County that was published in 1848. That quote was,
“A small mountain stream enters the Hudson at this place called the Mill brook, upon which stood the manorial mills long since superseded by Ramsay’s mill.” (underlines added)
We were thus closing in on the first answer, which got even closer when we realized that this “Mill Brook” entered the Hudson River near an island called “Oscawana Island”, which is in the location of the park of the same name that was returned in my initial search. I now had all three search terms pointing to the same location.
Another excerpt from the 1848 publication provided further evidence that we found our man. With regard to Cortlandt Furnace, this except states,
“In the year 1760 a mining company was established in England, and German miners employed for the purpose of obtaining and smelting iron ore in this vicinity. It would appear, however, that the ore was not found here in sufficient abundance, for, at a vast expense, we find it subsequently transported from the Queensbury mine, in the forest of Dean, Rockland County, (by the route of King’s ferry) and smelted in this furnace.
But even in Rockland County the ore was not found in sufficient quantities to render it of any importance, so that prior to the Revolution the enterprise was wholly abandoned, and the property sold to Mr. John Ramsay whose daughter married John Cruger, father of Nicholas the present proprietor of the furnace woods.”
This excerpt provided Ramsay’s first name, thereby answering with greater certainty the question of who John Ramsay was. He apparently was the owner of what was once a poorly producing iron mill in what is now Crugers, Westchester County, New York sometime prior to the American Revolution whose descendants would eventually found the town of Crugers. It should be noted that the historical society recognizes this mill site as archaeologically significant, although sadly all buildings associated with the mill are now long gone.
Now that we now know who John Ramsay was, it was time to answer the second question: Why is John Ramsay’s name on a small plaque next to my front porch?
With a little bit of luck I was able to spy out a clue that would eventually yield the answer to that second question. I learned from my research on past owners of the Neebor Lee property that one of the best ways to decipher the history of a family is to search that family’s name on Ancestry.com. I therefore performed a search on that web service using John Ramsay’s name. The results yielded the name of the daughter who married John Cruger, which is a name referenced in the 1848 publication, thereby confirming that I had the correct John Ramsay. It was then that I saw that among his six children his second youngest daughter was married to a gentleman who had “Macomb” as his last name. If you have read my prior posts, you will recall that owner of Broadview Mansion, located adjacent to the Neebor Lee, was Francis Macomb Gumbes in the early 1900s. Was “Macomb” an indication of a family connection?
To find out, I searched down the John Ramsay’s family tree while also searching up the family tree of Francis Macomb Gumbes. In doing so, I was able to identify a common relative: Frances Sarah Dring Macomb. She was both the granddaughter of John Ramsay and the wife of Samuel Wetherill Gumbes. She also was the grandmother of Francis Macomb Gumbes and thus, the grandmother of Francis’ brother, Charles Wetherill Gumbes Jr., who was the member of the Gumbes family who expanded the Neebor Lee from a two-story stone farmhouse to the current three-story structure with the large front porch.
Putting these clues together, the answer to the second question regarding why a plaque with John Ramsay’s name is sitting next to the front porch of the Neebor Lee house is that Charles Wetherill Gumbes, great-great grandson of John Ramsay, very likely put it there when he had the porch constructed in 1903. The block on which the plaque is mounted also has two iron stubs sticking out of it, suggesting that an iron structure of some sort was once mounted on the block with the plaque. Perhaps Charles Wetherill Gumbes Jr. inherited this broken family heirloom upon his father’s death in 1903 and not knowing what to do with it, he decided to place it at the entrance of his reconstructed home as a marker of his family’s heritage.