Boston Custom House

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Boston Custom House, circa 1904 or earlier CustomHouseStreet Boston.jpg
Boston Custom House, circa 1904 or earlier

The Custom House in Boston, Massachusetts, was established in the 17th century and stood near the waterfront in several successive locations through the years. In 1849 the U.S. federal government constructed a neoclassical building on State Street; it remains the "Custom House" known to Bostonians today. A tower was added in 1915; the building joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was designated a Boston Landmark by the Boston Landmarks Commission in 1986.

Massachusetts State in the northeastern United States

Massachusetts, officially known as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island to the south, New Hampshire and Vermont to the north, and New York to the west. The state is named after the Massachusett tribe, which once inhabited the east side of the area, and is one of the original thirteen states. The capital of Massachusetts is Boston, which is also the most populous city in New England. Over 80% of the population of Massachusetts lives in the Greater Boston metropolitan area, a region influential upon American history, academia, and industry. Originally dependent on agriculture, fishing and trade, Massachusetts was transformed into a manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th century, Massachusetts's economy shifted from manufacturing to services. Modern Massachusetts is a global leader in biotechnology, engineering, higher education, finance, and maritime trade.

Boston Harbor estuary and harbor of Massachusetts Bay in the northeastern United States

Boston Harbor is a natural harbor and estuary of Massachusetts Bay, and is located adjacent to the city of Boston, Massachusetts. It is home to the Port of Boston, a major shipping facility in the northeastern United States.

State Street (Boston) street in Boston, Massachusetts

State Street in Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the oldest streets in the city. Located in the financial district, it is the site of some historic landmarks, such as Long Wharf, the Old State House and the Boston Custom House.

Contents

History

1698–1786

Detail of Paul Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770; Custom House visible at right 1770 BostonMassacre byRevere detail CustomHouse.png
Detail of Paul Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770; Custom House visible at right

The Royal Commissioners of Customs administered customs in Boston during the colonial period. [1] In the late 17th century, the customhouse was located at the waterfront, on the corner of Richmond St. and Ann St." [2]

At the time of the Boston Massacre in 1770, it was located on King Street, very near the Old State House. Private Hugh White was on sentry guard duty. Paul Revere's illustration of the massacre depicts the customhouse (along the right-most edge of the picture). [3]

Boston Massacre Incident on March 5, 1770

The Boston Massacre, known to the British as the Incident on King Street, was a confrontation on March 5, 1770 in which British soldiers shot and killed several people while being harassed by a mob in Boston. The event was heavily publicized by leading Patriots such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. British troops had been stationed in the Province of Massachusetts Bay since 1768 in order to support crown-appointed officials and to enforce unpopular Parliamentary legislation.

Custom-House, Custom House Street, Boston (built 1810) CustomHouse Boston 19thc.png
Custom-House, Custom House Street, Boston (built 1810)

1786–1849

After the revolution, the customhouse remained on State Street. [4] Employees included Thomas Melvill (1786–1820). [5] In 1810 it moved into a new building on Custom House Street (between Broad St. and India St.). [6] [7] [8] In the 1830s American author Nathaniel Hawthorne worked there. [9]

Thomas Melvill (American patriot) American patriot

Thomas Melvill or Thomas Melville was a merchant, member of the Sons of Liberty, participant in the Boston Tea Party, a major in the American Revolution, a longtime fireman in the Boston Fire Department, state legislator, and paternal grandfather of writer Herman Melville.

Nathaniel Hawthorne American novelist and short story writer

Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist, dark romantic, and short story writer. His works often focus on history, morality, and religion.

1849–1913

A new site on State Street was purchased by the federal government on September 13, 1837. Construction of a custom house was authorized by U.S. President Andrew Jackson. When it was completed in 1849, it cost about $1.076 million, in contemporary U.S. currency, including the site, foundations, etc. [10]

Custom house Government office building for import and export of goods

A custom house or customs house was traditionally a building housing the offices for a jurisdictional government whose officials oversaw the functions associated with importing and exporting goods into and out of a country, such as collecting customs duty on imported goods. A custom house was typically located in a seaport or in a city on a major river, with access to an ocean. These cities acted as a port of entry into a country.

Andrew Jackson 7th president of the United States

Andrew Jackson was an American soldier and statesman who served as the seventh president of the United States from 1829 to 1837. Before being elected to the presidency, Jackson gained fame as a general in the United States Army and served in both houses of Congress. As president, Jackson sought to advance the rights of the "common man" against a "corrupt aristocracy" and to preserve the Union.

Ammi Burnham Young entered an 1837 competition to design the Boston Custom House, and won with his neoclassical design. This building was a cruciform (cross-shaped) Greek Revival structure, combining a Greek Doric portico with a Roman dome, resembled a four-faced Greek temple topped with a dome. It had 36 fluted Doric columns, each carved from a single piece of granite from Quincy, Massachusetts; each weighed 42 tons (37 metric tons) [11] and cost about $5,200. [12] Only half these actually support the structure; the others are free-standing. They are 5 feet (1.5 m) and 4 inches (162 cm) in diameter and 32 feet (9.7 m) high. [11] Inside, the rotunda was capped with a skylight dome.

Ammi B. Young American architect

Ammi Burnham Young was a 19th-century American architect whose commissions transitioned from the Greek Revival to the Neo-Renaissance styles. His design of the second Vermont State House brought him fame and success, which eventually led him to become the first Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department. As federal architect, he was responsible for creating across the United States numerous custom houses, post offices, courthouses and hospitals, many of which are today on the National Register. His traditional architectural forms lent a sense of grandeur and permanence to the new country's institutions and communities. Young pioneered the use of iron in construction.

Neoclassical architecture Architectural style

Neoclassical architecture is an architectural style produced by the neoclassical movement that began in the mid-18th century. In its purest form, it is a style principally derived from the architecture of classical antiquity, the Vitruvian principles, and the work of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio.

Doric order Order of ancient Greek and Roman architecture, with no base to the column, simple capital, and triglyphs on the frieze

The Doric order was one of the three orders of ancient Greek and later Roman architecture; the other two canonical orders were the Ionic and the Corinthian. The Doric is most easily recognized by the simple circular capitals at the top of columns. Originating in the western Dorian region of Greece, it is the earliest and in its essence the simplest of the orders, though still with complex details in the entablature above.

The entire structure sits on filled land and is supported by 3,000 wooden piles driven through fill to bedrock. [11] Before land reclamation was done in the mid-19th century, Boston's waterfront extended right to this building. [10] Ships moored at Long Wharf almost touched the eastern face of the building. The Custom House was built at the end of the City docks, to facilitate inspection and registration of cargo. [11] The federal government used the building to collect maritime duties in the age of Boston clipper ships. [13]

This description of the original Custom House appears in the 1850 Boston Almanac:

Situated at the head of the dock between Long and Central Wharves, fronts east on the dock, west on India Street, and is in the form of a Greek Cross, [with] the opposite sides and ends being alike. It is 140 feet (43 m) long north and south, 75 feet (23 m) wide at the ends, and 95 feet (29 m) through the centre. It is built on about 3,000 piles, fully secured against decay; the construction throughout is fireproof and of the very best kind.
Custom House, Boston, India St., 1850 1850 CustomHouse HinghamPacket Boston MFABoston.png
Custom House, Boston, India St., 1850
The exterior of the building is purely Grecian Doric, not a copy, but adapted to the exigencies and peculiarities of the structure, and consists of a portico [overhang] of 6 columns on each side, on a high flight of steps, and an order of engaged columns around the walls, 20 in number, on a high stylobate or basement; the order of engaged columns terminating with 4 andae [pilasters] at their intersection with the porticos. The columns are 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 m) in diameter and 32 feet (9.8 m) high, the shaft being in one place, each weighing about 42 tons.
The cellar, which is 10 feet 6 inches (3.20 m) high to the crown of the arches, is principally used for the storage of goods, which are conveyed to it through the basement story. The steam apparatus for warming the whole building (which it does effectively) is situated in the cellar, having easy access to the coal vaults under the sidewalk outside of the building.
Cross-section of the 1837 design of the Custom House. Boston custom house.jpg
Cross-section of the 1837 design of the Custom House.
Custom House, 19th century Custom House (Boston Public Library).jpg
Custom House, 19th century
The principal entrances to the basement story are at each end. They are for the receipt of goods for storage. Near the northwest corner, on the west side, is the entrance to the Night Inspectors' apartments, also to the private staircase leading to the Collector's room and the attic. South of the west portico is the entrance to the heating apparatus room, and on the south end is the entrance to the Custom House Truckmen's room. This story consists of rooms for the Night Inspectors, Custom House Truckmen, and Engineer of the Heating Apparatus, also three sets of Water Closets: the remainder is used for storage of goods, weigher's tabs, etc.
The principal ingress to the entrance story is through the porticos, but it can be entered from the Collector's private staircase, and from two other private staircases in the basement. This story contains apartments and offices for the Assistant Treasurer, the Weighers and Gaugers, the Measurers, Inspectors, Markers, Superintendent of Building, etc. In the centre is a large vestibule, from which two broad flights of steps lead to the principal story, landing in two smaller vestibules therein, lighted by skylights in the roof, and these vestibules communicate with all the apartments in this story. The several rooms are for the Collector, Assistant Collector, Naval Officer, Surveyor, Public Store Keeper, their Deputies and Clerks; and for the facilities of doing business this arrangement is not surpassed. The grand-cross shaped Rotunda, for the general business of the Collector's department, in the centre of this story, is finished in the Grecian Corinthian order; it is 63 feet (19 m) in its greatest length, 59 feet wide, and 62 feet (19 m) in the skylight.
In one of the panels of the Rotunda is inserted a tablet of marble (Dedication Tablet 1847), containing the following inscription: Boston Custom House Building. Authorized by the 23d Congress, A.D. 1835. Andrew Jackson, President U.S.A.; Levi Woodbury, Sec'y of the Treasury.—Opened August 1st, A.D. 1847, James K. Polk, President U.S.A.; Robert J. Walker Sec'y of the Treasury; Marcus Morton, Collector of the Port; Samuel S. Lewis, Robert G. Shaw, Commissioners; Ammi Burnham Young, Architect.

1915–1986

Custom House Tower, early 20th century CustomHouseTower Boston DetroitCo.jpeg
Custom House Tower, early 20th century

By 1905, increased shipping required the building's expansion. In 1913–1915, the architecture firm Peabody and Stearns added a 496 ft (151 m) tower to the base. It was the tallest building in both Boston and New England for almost half a century, until the Prudential Tower surpassed it in 1964.

1986–present

In 1986 when custom officials of the United States Customs Service moved to the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Federal Building in the West End, the Custom House on State Street was declared "surplus property". On April 16, 1987, the city of Boston purchased the building from the General Services Administration. The building remained unoccupied and inaccessible for 14 years. It was converted into an 84-room time share resort by Marriott Vacation Club International starting in 1997.

Since 2003, customs functions lie under the dominion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, housed in Boston's O'Neill Federal Building.

Locations

See also

Related Research Articles

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References

Newspaper item about comings and goings from Boston, June 1732 (Weekly Rehearsal) 1732 CustomHouse WeeklyRehearsal Boston June5.png
Newspaper item about comings and goings from Boston, June 1732 ( Weekly Rehearsal )
  1. Morison. 1921
  2. 1 2 Boston Almanac. 1847
  3. Louise Phelps Kellogg (1918). "The Paul Revere died of the Boston Massacre". Wisconsin Magazine of History. 1 (4): 377–387. JSTOR   4630108.
  4. 1 2 Boston Directory. 1805
  5. National cyclopaedia of American biography. 1901.
  6. 1 2 Boston Directory. 1823, 1832
  7. 1 2 Boston Almanac. 1841
  8. 1 2 Snow. History of Boston. Boston: Abel Bowen, 1825.
  9. George Edwin Jepson (1904) Hawthorne in the Boston Custom House. The Bookman.
  10. 1 2 Boston Custom House Tower, The City's First Real Skyscraper. Celebrateboston.com. Retrieved on 2013-11-07.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Custom House. iBoston.org. Retrieved on 2013-11-07.
  12. Arthur Wellington Brayley (1913) CHAPTER III. SOME FAMOUS STRUCTURES OF QUINCY GRANITE.-PIONEERS IN THE WORK AND THE EXTENT OF THEIR BUSINESS.-BUILDING MINOT'S LEDGE LIGHTHOUSE. History of the Granite Industry of New England. Vol. I. National Association of Granite Industries of the United States.
  13. Education – Historic Markers – Downtown. Bostonhistory.org. Retrieved on 2013-11-07.
  14. A Short narrative of the horrid massacre in Boston, perpetrated in the evening of the fifth day of March, 1770. By soldiers of the XXIXth Regiment; which with the XIVth Regiment were then quartered there: with some observations on the state of things prior to that catastrophe. Boston: Edes & Gill, 1770
  15. Boston Directory. 1849
  16. Bacon. The book of Boston: fifty years' recollections of the New England. 1916

Further reading

Coordinates: 42°21′33″N71°03′13″W / 42.3591°N 71.0535°W / 42.3591; -71.0535