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 building on State Street. A tower was added in 1915, the joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was designated a Boston Landmark by the Boston Landmarks Commission in 1986. The Royal Commissioners of Customs administered customs in Boston during the colonial period, in the late 17th century, the customhouse was located at the waterfront, on the corner of Richmond St. and Ann St. At the time of the Boston Massacre in 1770, it was located on King Street, private Hugh White was on sentry guard duty. Paul Reveres illustration of the massacre depicts the customhouse, after the revolution, the customhouse remained on State Street. In 1810 it moved into a new building on Custom House Street, in the 1830s American author Nathaniel Hawthorne worked there. A new site on State Street was purchased by the government on September 13,1837. Construction of a house was authorized by U. S. President Andrew Jackson. When it was completed in 1849, it cost about $1,076,000, in contemporary U. S. currency, including the site, foundations, Ammi Burnham Young entered an 1837 competition to design the Boston Custom House, and won with his neoclassical design. This building was a cruciform Greek Revival structure, combining a Greek Doric portico with a Roman dome and it had 36 fluted Doric columns, each carved from a single piece of granite from Quincy, Massachusetts, each weighed 42 tons and cost about $5,200. Only half these actually support the structure, the others are free-standing and they are 5 feet and 4 inches in diameter and 32 feet high. Inside, the rotunda was capped with a skylight dome, the entire structure sits on filled land and is supported by 3,000 wooden piles driven through fill to bedrock. Before land reclamation was done in the century, Bostons waterfront extended right to this building. Ships moored at Long Wharf almost touched the face of the building. The Custom House was built at the end of the City docks, the federal government used the building to collect maritime duties in the age of Boston clipper ships. It is 140 feet long north and south,75 feet wide at the ends and it is built on about 3,000 piles, fully secured against decay, the construction throughout is fireproof and of the very best kind. The columns are 5 feet 4 inches in diameter and 32 feet high, the cellar, which is 10 feet 6 inches high to the crown of the arches, is principally used for the storage of goods, which are conveyed to it through the basement story
Boston Custom House, circa 1904 or earlier
Cross-section of the 1837 design of the Custom House.