Father, Son and Holy Ghost

One of the important items to come out of the struggle to save the Neebor Lee from demolition in the early 1970s was a statement on the historical and architectural significance of that old home that was prepared in support of an application to list the home on the Federal Register of Historic Places.  The statement along with the completed Historic Resource Survey Form was submitted to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for review in 1973.  Although the Neebor Lee was determined to not be eligible for the listing in September 1982, the statement still provides valuable information about the history and architecture of the home.  Fortunately, the Montgomery County Historical Society had retained a copy of the application and statement and I was very appreciative when that organization contacted me to inform me that they had found it among their collections.

I’ve provided the full text of the “Statement of Significance” below.  Please note the the names of the structures provided in this statement are not the same as those that I have been using in other blog posts.  To avoid confusion, I’ve prepared a cheat-sheet below:

Name Used in other Blogs Name used in the 1973 Statement of Significance Known and Potential Former Uses of the Reference Structure
Lodge Den playhouse; storage, recreation building, meeting hall
Servant House Lodge Pre-1785 residence; summer kitchen, smith’s shop; smoke house; servant quarters; wash house; guest house.
Old Shed Kennel dog kennel; chicken house; shed
Root Cellar/Ice House Cave cool storage of foods (e.g. milk, meat); bomb shelter
Work Shop Work Shop  work shop

Where possible, I included photos (historical and current) of structures and items mentioned in the Statement as well as several illustrations to better understand the layout of the original farmhouse.

 

Statement of Significance                                                                                            Revised – 26 July 1973

Our early America home of stucco over stone with walls 18 inches and more thick, has many of the features characterizing a Pennsylvania German House.  The property is part of Proprietary Manor of Gilberts.

Since the original Statement of Significance was submitted Neebor Lee has been subjected to critical inspection by both Curator Alan G. Keyser of the Goschenhoppen Historians, Inc. and associates from Vernfield, Pa. on May 25, 1970, and G. Edwin Brumbaugh, F.A.I.A. accompanied by his partner architect Albert F. Ruthrauff, A.I.A. on 20 July 1970. Their impressions have been most helpful in understanding the features of this home which is of the type colloquially known as “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

The construction was accomplished by owner Peter Horning who acquired the land from his father, Ludwig Horning, a carpenter.  While building the “Father” section of the main house the family would traditionally have lived in the LODGE, one of the nearby supporting cluster and possibly the oldest building here.  Note that Ludwig Horning (D.B.7, p. 84) deeded to another son, Michael Horning, other land in 1784 “Beginning at a corner of Peter Horning’s land…”

Original door located in the Son’s section of the house. The lower hinge has “1785” inscribed on it. The door knob and lock is a 1830 Carpenter & Co. lock imported from England.

Normally the “Father” section would have had a full basement, but family history suggests that a large boulder was found during the building activity which changed plans. Instead of waiting for the son’s family to grow up, the builders activated the plans of the “Son” section at once or soon thereafter with a basement included. This presumption is supported by the presence of six similar doors built only between 1780 and 1790 and found in both “Father” and “Son” sections.  One of these doors on the “Son” section has hardware bearing the date of 1785 while a circular insert on the end of the “Father” section near the gable carries the same date, 1785.  The stone wall 19 ½ inches thick which separates the “Father” and “Son” sections initially was built with door openings provided on both first and second floors.  The central dividing wall supports fireplaces on both “Father” and “Son” sides on the first floor as well as the great basement fireplace (now sealed) with a common chimney near the middle of the structure. This is a characteristic feature of this type of German home.  In addition, fireplace chimneys are located at each end of the building within the stone exterior. There are presently four (4) working fireplaces within the main building with others located in buildings of the cluster.

Fireplaces are seldom used due to the adequacy of a low pressure steam furnace which services 19 radiators plus hot-water system for the conservatory.

*Pa. German Society, Vol. XL1 – “Earliest Stone Houses”,  by Edwin Brumbaugh, pp. 29, 37, 46

** See Enclosure – Horning Plantation – p. 225, 226.

The main house was originally two stories high with surrounding porch resting on stone piers properly slanted and integral with the foundation stonework.  Sections of the porch were enclosed to provide spaces such as a conservatory, garage, kitchen and service areas.  The basic stone walls are over 18 inches thick with stucco applied to the exterior. On the “Father” side, the floor beams are logs with one site flattened to level the floor. On the “son” side the beams are shaped and rough-carved by adz with random spacing 17½ to 21 inches spanning a basement width of 16 feet. This area is dry since a floor drain provides gravity flow to the outside. However, experts believe these beams have been replaced one or more times. Access to the basement is provided by a slanted door which is characteristic of this type of German home. Other access is available from an inside stairway leading from the kitchen area.

Floor Plan of the Neebor Lee’s first floor reconstructed as it would have possibly looked in 1785. Noteworthy items: Two side-by-side front doors entering into the parlor, or “Smoking Room” (middle room) of the Father’s section, which was a feature common to homes in southeastern Pennsylvania at that time; large fireplace on the interior wall of the Son’s section with a rear opening that potentially connected to German jamb stove (gray square) that heated the parlor of the Father’s section; and “winder” staircase in Son’s section. A basement only underlies the Son’s section.
A conceptualization of the Neebor Lee house as it may have appeared in its original 1785 form. It is based on the home’s existing floor plan and and on a description of the home as presented in a 1903 construction document.  The Servant House, which is referred to as the “Lodge” in the Statement of Significance, is pictured on the right in the background as a one-story log structure the the southeast side comprised of a large fireplace..

 

1872 photograph of the Neebor Lee (left). The Carriage House is on the right.  The carriage house was moved to an adjacent property in or around 1903.

Water from the premises is supplied from a well drilled 75 feet deep and fixed within the house boundaries. This is located 15 feet from the basement corner.  According to experts (Dr. G. Edwin Brumbaugh in his “Pennsylvania German Houses” see Pennsylvania German Society, Vol. XL1, p. 30, Harrisburg, oct 17, 1930) nearly all of the early stone houses were built over a spring…the romantic conclusion being that the brave settlers could be supplied in case of attach by Indians.

Neebor Lee has always been maintained as a home and not as a historic museum. Changes have been kept to a minimum. One apparent change to a three-story structure is noted – presumably to provide more living space. A photograph shows this to be a characteristic two-storied structure originally. Today, it is a three story home with gambrel roof.  The explanation lies in a 1903 contract with Charles S. Boileau who renewed roofs and “roof story”, converting the attic to living quarters for a price of $1,448.00. The original roof-tree is still in place. Owners must have done their research  well, because the gambrel roof is found in many fine antique structures of the 18th century.

The Neebor Lee house today.  The Servant House (right) had a second floor added in 1903.

Rebecca Wetherill Gumbes who acquired Neebor Lee in 1861 was a philanthropist and leader in religious affairs during her lifetime. She sponsored a chapel on her grounds at Oakland Hall in Oaks (1852) until St. Paul’s Memorial Church was built (1871) with her assistance. She donated to the community the ground on which St. Paul’s Church now stands. This church is presently designated a historic site. Rebecca Gumbes, in 1857 also purchased an adjacent property with its house and presented it to the community to serve as a rectory for the chapel as well as Old Union Church. Having been instrumental in erecting and establishing St. Paul’s Church, Rebecca Gumbes then endowed it. Neebor Lee is the only remaining site in her family through which her deeds may be remembered.

OTHER CHANGES

View from the “Smoking Room” in the “Father’s Section” revealing the reconstructed archway, the re-located stairway and the English Style paneling installed in 1918. Note the homes’s original door and lock on the left. With one exception, all of the doors on the first and second floors of the original 1785 house have latches rather than doorknobs. The only doorknob is one manufactured in England by Carpenter & Co. in 1830 located in the Son’s section of the house.

Charles Wetherill Gumbes, Jr. who inherited Neebor Lee and acreage upon the death of his father, Dr. Charles W. Gumbes in March 1903, further modified the home for occupancy by himself and his wife, Susan Vaux Gumbes. However, one of the best documented changes is shown by Blueprint Plans and Elevations of Alterations prepared by architect Oliver Randolph Parry of 1631 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pa., dated April 23, 1918. The paneling may have introduced a misleading English atmosphere. This alteration dealt primarily with the “Smoking Room” at the main entrance, where the room was paneled, stairway relocated from directly in front of the door to the interior wall, the fireplace enclosed with paneling and the parlor archway reconstructed. It is noted that the doors and parlor arrangements were untouched except for a rear door now covered by paneling. Both front and rear exterior doors remaining in the smoking room today have antique hardware featuring hinges three feet long. Still another outside door at the conservatory contains two-foot strap hinges and an old lock by “Carpenter & Co.”.

Inlaid hardwood flooring was installed in the parlor areas and second-floor hallways in the early 1930s.

The water-tank and storage room on the third floor was stripped by the Whitemarshes in 1955 and a full bathroom installed.  Shortly thereafter they transferred the laundry facilities to the basement from a room near the kitchen and replaced it with a full bathroom containing four fixtures (urinal, washstand, toilet and combination shower and bath).  This room also accommodates sword and gun collections.  The second floor bathroom was renovated.

Circa 1970: Northwest corner of the house showing the garage entrance. The garage was later converted to an office.

The fourth and full bathroom was provided by modernizing facilities in the Lodge, including installation of an electric water heater.

The four full bathrooms have marble washstands, crane fittings where needed, and copper pipe which replaced galvanized water pipes in general.

The porch section along the northerly end of the house could well have been added around 1903 when fairly extensive repairs were undertaken. However, it is probable that the garage was enclosed around the year 1948 when the barn property, less windows, stone, etc. was sold to J.T. Smid.  Until that time the Gumbes automobile had access to the carriage house only through the barn property.  Three unusual diamond shaped windows, once a part of the barn, had been installed along the side of the garage enclosure when the Whitemarshes arrived in 1949.

An extensive terrace was added to the rear of the house, and driveways built to service appropriate areas. The entire home was insulated, electric wiring capacity increased to 100 amperes, and a 220 volt air conditioning unit provided.

THE CLUSTERS

The characteristic cluster which historically supports many of the older establishments included the Carriage House, the Den, the Work Shop, the Kennels and the Lodge.  Old papers would suggest that some of these structures might previously have been known as the wagon house, den, dog house, ice house, cave annex, wash house, chicken house, and smoke house.

The Carriage House has been removed to a position several hundred feet away where it shelters two tractors, farm machinery and work benches.  Sliding doors facing the barn were sealed and a modern balance garage door installed on the opposite side replacing a standard window and door. This connected with the new driveway leading to the home and its two gates to Black Rock Road.

The Den, presently with gambrel roof, and asbestos shingles, being of the approximate dimensions as the Carriage House was moved from the family home, Broadview, across the meadow on rollers, and fitted onto the old foundation.  It covered a full basement and domed stone cave.  It was a recreation hall for entertainment, containing a billiard table at one time, piano, dance floor, large fireplace, small stage for actors, stained glass windows and an antique window seat so rare that an appraiser (Samuel T. Freeman) insisted on listing it separately to preserve its identity.

The “Den”, which in present day we refer to as the Lodge.
The antique window seat in the “Den”.
Two of the “Den’s” stained glass windows, which are currently undergoing restoration.

The Cave with water gutters, iron hooks embedded and window to the adjacent stone-lined well could be reach by a stone stairway leading from the work shop.  There were many possible uses for the cave.  Water could flow from the well to the recessed gutters to cool the cans of milk.  Meat carcasses could safely hang from iron hooks. The perpetually cool atmosphere could act as a modified refrigerator. Around the cave walls were painted such words as grape, peach, blackberry, cider and dandelion which suggested however improperly a possible storage for beverages.  During the atomic bomb scare we considered this space as a fallout shelter.  A contract of 1903 mentions “certain outbuildings, viz; ice house, cave annex and wash house” which we find difficult to identify.

The “Cave”, or root cellar.
Severely rusted iron hook found buried near the Servant House. Iron hooks are believed to have been used in the Servant House (when it was a smoke house) to hang meat for drying and in the root cellar/ice house/Cave to hang meat in what was a natural refrigerator.

The Work Shop which gave access to the cave has rafters dovetailed together and pegged with large handcarved wooden pins.  The area accommodates woodwork and pipe-fitting activities. Although electrified, the area received light from three windows with a total of 86 panes of glass.

Handcarved wooden pin holding the rafters together in the old Work Shop, which recently was demolished due to its poor condition.

The Lodge as previously noted probably housed the owners while Neebor Lee was being constructed in 1785. It was originally a one-storied wood, stucco and stone structure with a single room for general living wherein was located a vast fireplace seven feet long and three feet eight inches high.  There was also an ample bathroom integrated into the structure with a second bathroom door leading outside.  Experts sought and found a special type board lining the sides of this doorway.  Each of them is thirteen inches wide, two and a half inches thick and five and a half feet high.  We are unfamiliar with the significance of this feature.  The fireplace is enclosed with paneled mahogany sections mounted on metal straps and fastenings.  The front door is of similar construction; the paneled mahogany construction 2 ½ inches thick being mounted on iron strap hinges two feet long.  The experts asked where the matching door was, since these doors always came in pairs.  It is actually installed between the garage and the Terrace Room. Again, the significance escapes us.

Additionally, the Lodge received a second floor over the family room to which it was connected by a circular staircase.  The old Lodge chimney contours show that the ridge was raised about five feet and much of the attic used to form the second floor bedroom.  This provided a parlor, bedroom and bath arrangement of unique charm.  The date of the change may well be 1903 when “roofs” were mentioned in a contract. It served as quarters for household help from 1903 to 1950 after which it became a guest house.  Sometime between 1785 and 1903 it is possible that it was used as a smoke house since the overhead beams were drilled to take rods to support weights.

The “Lodge”, which we now refer to as the “Servant House”.

The Kennels with the gambrel roof is constructed with wood frame and cement floor.  It was provided with a front door and two small rear entrances for animal access.  An exercise yard of wire mesh was used by hunting dogs of Charles W. Gumbes, Jr.  Prior to this use it was a chicken house.  Recently it has become a Garden House to serve the nearby vegetable garden.

In Neebor Lee numerous items of historic interest may be found.  The fireplaces of Adam design are original construction.  Stairway spindles measuring 1 by ¾ inch in cross section indicate their antique character. There are wooden pegs inserted in walls for stowing hoop skirts and bulky items.  Our establishment contains over 1200 window panes or lights, many of which are wavy or irregular having bubbles or distortions evident.  Also of some significance are the 6 over 9 windows found on the first floor.  We also note extensive use of chair rails and beamed ceilings in several rooms where hand-carved and random-width boards may be identified as original flooring for rooms above.  Insulation has been extensively employed and double-glass windows installed for weather-proofing.  Experts have stated that much remains here to be studied and analyzed.

We recognize the Neebor Lee as a landmark establishment both as to home construction and acreage site based on early deeds and ownership changes.  In 1765 Ludwig Horning, a carpenter and father of Peter Horning, acquired 152 acres 7 perches of land from Rinear Vanderslice.  This tract was later divided and part sold on 2 August 1784 by Ludwig Horning to son Michael Horning, which was 97 ½ acres, beginning “at a stone corner of Peter Horning’s land.”  Peter Horning therefore owned the site when Neebor Lee was built in 1785.  He disposed of it about three years later.  More specifically, deeds show:

Succession of Ownership

DATE

OWNER

SOLD TO

DEED BOOK

ACRES

15 June 1765

Rinear Vanderslice

Ludwig Horning

7 p. 84

152

2 June 1784

Ludwig Horning

Michael Horning

97.5

ca. 1784

Ludwig Horning

Peter Horning

Est. 54.5

1 Mar. 1788

Peter Horning

William Thomas

52.5

1 Apr. 1790

William Thomas

Abraham Reiff

26 p. 698

David Weir

Abraham Reiff

12.0

5 Apr. 1827

Abraham Reiff

Abraham N. Hendricks

43 p. 400

10 Sep. 1857

Abraham N. Hendricks

Rebecca Gumbes

107 p. 399

1.356

10 Oct. 1861

Abraham N. Hendricks

Rebecca Gumbes

124 p. 411

61.869

22 Jun. 1867

Rebecca Gumbes

Wm. H. Gumbes

152 p. 643

 

3 May 1872

Wm. H. Gumbes

Dr. Chas. W. Gumbes

200 p. 316

 

Mar. 1903

Dr. Chas W. Gumbes

Chas. W. Gumbes Jr.

   

27 Apr. 1950

Chas. W. Gumbes Jr.

Ross P. Whitemarsh et ux, Rebecca Gumbes Whitemarsh

2079 p. 19

57.61

 

*Peter Horning, builder of Neebor Lee in 1785.

Neebor Lee is noted as representative of the early life in America.  In addition to other recognition, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission has included the property in its “Inventory of Historic Sites” urging its preservation.  Also, the “Comprehensive Plan for Upper Providence Township” lists “Gumbes Homesteads” (Neebor Lee) and “St. Paul’s Church” as two of its four historic sites and structures of “great significance which should be preserved.”

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