Historic Structures

Custom House, New Bedford Massachusetts

Date added: December 14, 2009 Categories: Massachusetts Post Office Greek Revival

This is an early Federal building representative of governmental activity during a period when the Merchant Marine was growing rapidly. It was built for a customs office and a postal office.

Completed in 1836, the U.S. Custom House in New Bedford is the oldest continuously operating Custom House in the Nation. It is also the largest, most elaborate and arguably the finest of the series of four granite Greek Revival customhouses in New England designed by Robert Mills between 1834 and 1836. The only other customhouse designed by Robert Mills in Massachusetts is in Newburyport. Mills, the first architect of international reputation both born and trained in America, is also known for designing important buildings and structures in Washington, D.C. such as the U.S. Treasury, the General Post Office, the Patent Office and the Washington Monument.

The New Bedford Custom House was authorized by Congress on July 3, 1832. The site for the building was purchased on April 22, 1833 for the sum of $4,900, and the cost of the finished building was approximately $25,500. It is a rectangular, two-story, white granite building with a hipped roof. It is five bays wide and three bays deep. The fa├žade is dominated by a three-bay wide portico comprised of four Greek Doric columns, which support a pediment. Pilasters are exhibited at each corner of the building. Historically, the New Bedford Custom House was where whaling masters registered their ships and cargo. It is symbolic of the era when New Bedford was a major port, and it adds architectural distinction to the New Bedford Historic District. Today's commercial fishing and cargo ships continue to log duties and tariffs here, as it still serves as the New Bedford office of the U.S. Customs Service. It was also the first post office in New Bedford and continues to function as such.