The Newburyport Custom House
In July of 1789, the U.S. Congress passed three acts that provided for administering customs tariffs and collecting duties on imported “goods and merchandises.” These acts established ports of entry, and nine customs collection districts in the eleven states that had ratified the new Constitution. Administration of customs laws was placed under the Secretary of the Treasury later that year.
To Newburyport were annexed Amesbury, Salisbury, and Haverhill as ports of delivery only, and a Collector, Naval Officer, and Surveyor were then appointed to reside at Newburyport. The Customs Service was originally responsible not only for the collection of duties on imported goods, but also the registering and licensing of American vessels, the enforcement of all maritime and navigation laws, and the management of regulations governing the entry and clearance of seamen and passengers.
Over time Newburyport declined as a commercial seaport, and the Custom House closed in 1911. After, it took on a number of new roles, from a manufacturing site for heels of women’s shoes, to a metal scrap yard during which salvaged submarine parts left significant cracks in our marble floor!
The building in which the museum resides was built in 1835 to facilitate growing overseas trade and tax collection of imported goods on the waterfront. Newburyport’s previous customhouse on State Street had burned in the Great Fire of 1811. This Greek revival structure was designed by architect Robert Mills, who also designed the U.S. Treasury building and the Washington Monument. The granite used to build the customhouse was quarried in Cape Ann and brought by barge to Newburyport where local masons shaped the rock, and assembled the building according to Mills’ plans. The vaulted ceilings, and cantilevered staircases in the building are hallmarks of Mills’ work.
The Custom House Maritime Museum
The Custom House is now a dynamic maritime history museum, education center, aspiring research facility, and a meeting place for people seeking a unique venue for professional or social gatherings. We connect our vibrant past to our living present through our relationships with local educational, artistic, business, and environmental organizations.
The Newburyport Maritime Society
The Custom House Maritime Museum is managed by the Newburyport Maritime Society, Inc., which was established in 1968 for the purpose of saving the Custom House, and protecting, preserving, and communicating the maritime history and heritage of the Merrimack Valley and its role in American history.
Stewards of your history
It’s about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going, who we are, who we were, and who we will become. From High Street to the shores of the Merrimack, the neighborhoods of Newburyport are steeped in maritime history, rich with stories of the people who helped build this city, explored the waters, and founded our nation. From its early settlement, to its rise as a commercial seaport, to its rebirth as a modern New England city, we are here to tell its story, to share its legacy, and to make you a part of where we go from here.
We are the Custom House Maritime Museum, the stewards of your maritime history.