Lees was born in England in 1830. While a child, he came to this country and settled in Philadelphia. After moving to Norristown, he attended Treemount Seminary in Norristown. He then went into business with his father to operate a Carpet Yarn Mill on Mill Creek in Bridgeport. Over time, the business expanded until it became one of the largest plants of its kind in the country. For several years, Lees was active in the Republican Party and helped convert Montgomery County from a Democratic stronghold to a Republican one. He also spent time as a vestryman at the Episcopal Church in Bridgeport.