of the Custom House emphasizes the nearby dilapidated wharves and decayed
wooden warehouses crumbling to ruin and his office "cobwebbed and dingy with
old paint." Hawthorne offers us an almost gothic
Custom House, a fitting element in the introduction to a romance novel.
The Custom House
is, in fact, an airy, handsome structure, flooded with light. This is characteristic
of Federal period buildings. Hawthorne does recognize these qualities when
he describes the building as "a spacious edifice of brick" and mentions the
lofty height of the ceiling in his office.
Putnam, a Weigher and Gauger for the U.S. Custom Service, designed the
Custom House in 1818 and oversaw its construction the following year.
His superior, Treasury Service Agent William R. Lee, designated Putnam
along with Jonathan P. Saunders, Surveyor of the Port, to draw up plans
for the proposed building. Putnam and Saunders actually submitted two
plans, one for a Federal style structure and the other for a
Greek Revival building.
A scaled down version of the Federal plan was authorized by
the Treasury department, which specified that construction costs should
not exceed the appropriation of $10,000.00. The building was erected
on a lot purchased from the
Crowninshield estate on Derby Street directly across from Derby Wharf.