In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

The Customs House

Text by Kimberly Mathews, Charles Mills, Courtney Mitchell, and Ashley Rusaw
7th grade students at Bath Middle School
Images from the Patten Free Library

Customs House, Bath, ca. 1978
Customs House, Bath, ca. 1978
Patten Free Library

The construction of the Customs House, at 1 Front Street, south of Lambard Street, was started in 1852 and finished in 1858. The building was unusual at that time for its fire-proof construction with iron beams inside the stone walls. The original building was completely made of granite. The 1912 addition was also granite from the same quarry at Mussel Ridge Islands in Penobscot Bay. The architectural style of the 2.5 story building is Italianate. The roof is a hipped roof. That architectural style was rarely seen in this area at that time. The building is considered elaborate because of the detail of how the stone was cut, set, and placed.

According to the 1851 map of Bath, three separate buildings occupied the property where the Customs House was later built. On the map, the buildings on the property were an engine house and two other houses that were owned by J. Lambard and C .W King, the son of William King, the first governor of Maine. Before 1852 , King's home was at the site of the Customs House. When William King died in 1852, his home was moved to Vine Street where it became a hotel.

The primary purpose of the Customs House in 1858 was to house the Collector of Customs for the Port of Bath and the United States Post Office. The job of the Customs Collector was to collect taxes on goods imported from other countries. Also, the building contained a room for federal judges, an office for the Port Surgeon and a room for the Merchant's Exchange and Board of Trade. When the building opened in 1858, Joseph Berry was Collector of Customs and Joseph C. Snow was U.S. Postmaster. The U.S. Post Office moved to its present site on Washington Street in 1975. That was also the last year that the Customs Collector was in the Customs House.

Govenor  William King
Govenor William King
Patten Free Library

Many people were involved with the fundraising, construction, and businesses associated with the Customs House. One of the most important people was Ammi B. Young, the architect of the Customs House, who also designed several other Customs Houses. These projects made him a well-known architect. In 1852, Thomas D. Robinson, David Branson and William M. Reed were appointed as commissioners to construct the building. Mr Branson was the Customs Collector for the Port of Bath. Mr. Robinson and Mr. Reed were prominent Bath businessmen.

The steps of the Customs House were often the site of city, state, or federal government events. For example, in 1889, the 23rd President, Benjamin Harrison visited Bath to tour the shipyards of Bath and attend the launching of the Rappahannock, one of the four largest wooden vessels built by the A. Sewall and Company.

President Harrison, Bath, 1889
President Harrison, Bath, 1889
Maine Maritime Museum

In the years after 1975, when the Customs House stopped being the home of the Post Office and the Customs Collector, many businesses have occupied the building. For example, it has been the home of Kennebec Kitchens, Bartlett Design Co. , Chapman and Drake Insurance, Edward Jones Investments, and Spencer Gray Insurance. Today, the Customs House is an historic treasure registered with the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).