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Old Custom House (Old Federal Building)

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Old Federal Building
1852–1855, Ammi B. Young. King and 6th Sts.
  • Old Custom House (Old Federal Building) (Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society)
  • Old Custom House (Old Federal Building) (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)

Appointed Supervising Architect of the Office of Construction of the Treasury Department in 1852, Young became the first American architect with a nationwide sway. This building, the finished drawings for which are dated February 1853, was among the first he executed after his appointment. Construction was fireproof: walls were three feet thick, wooden floors were supported by structural brick arches on wrought-iron beams, and iron was used for columns, stairs, and roof trusses. The style was austere Italianate under a hipped roof. A post office occupied the main floor, and the courtroom upstairs saw important Civil War trials. The front balcony is gone. Delaware WPA occupied the building in 1937 when the post office moved to a new home on Rodney Square. After 1960, as King Street underwent massive urban renewal, the vacant Old Custom House was the subject of debate, AIA Delaware declining to recommend its preservation, fearful of antagonizing city officials who wanted to demolish it. Mayor Harry G. Haskell Jr. told a Wilmington reporter it was not “worth a damn … absolutely nothing. Its preservation will threaten the economic future of the city.” His successor, Tom Maloney, disagreed, and eventually the Custom House became the first example in Delaware of a private building on the National Register being renovated for public use (1975–1976, Richard L. Dayton for Homsey Architects). Following another remodeling (1981, Kenneth M. Freemark Jr.), it housed fast-growing Wilmington College. In 2004, the college announced it no longer needed the building, the fate of which became again uncertain.

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard


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W. Barksdale Maynard, "Old Custom House (Old Federal Building)", [Wilmington, Delaware], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Delaware

Buildings of Delaware, W. Barksdale Maynard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, 99-99.

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