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Customs House Museum and Cultural Center

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Clarksville Federal Building; U.S. Post Office and Customs House
1897–1898, William Martin Aiken. 200 S. Second St.
  • North and east elevations (Photograph by Claudette Stager)
  • East elevation showing historic building and modern addition (Photograph by Claudette Stager)
  • Detail of eagle, c. 1971 (Photograph by Jack Boucher, HABS)
  • Lobby, c. 1971 (Photograph by Jack Boucher, HABS)
  • Lobby today (Photograph by Claudette Stager)

During the late nineteenth century, Clarksville, the Montgomery County seat, became a national center for the dark-fired (smokeless) tobacco industry. This industry, and later more diverse agriculture and manufacturing industries, increased the need for a large customs house and post office.

Funds for the building were first appropriated in 1892 and the land, catty-corner from the county courthouse, was secured in 1894. Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury William Martin Aiken designed the structure, which was completed in 1898. Aiken’s design derives its inspiration from the fifteenth-century French Chateauesque or Francis I style in its use of a steeply pitched hipped roof, pinnacled dormers, arched openings, and mix of brick, terra-cotta, slate, and copper. Only sixty-two feet square in plan, the building seems much larger than it is because of the elaborate roof. Twenty large gable dormers sit on the steeply pitched roof and arched windows grace the main floor. A tall, narrow tower dominates the streetscape, and copper eagles ornament each corner of the building. The interior finishing is relatively simple, though it does feature marble floors and oak woodwork. Overall, the building is the finest example of the Chateauesque style in Tennessee.

In the 1930s, the building was used by the city of Clarksville’s Department of Electricity. They added a garage addition to the building in the 1950s. The Customs House Museum and Cultural Center opened in the building in 1984, using the garage space for exhibitions. More exhibit space was added to the historic building in 1996.

References

“1898 Building.” Customs House Museum and Cultural Center. Accessed July 28, 2016. http://customshousemuseum.org/about/1898-building.

Harper, Herbert L., “Clarksville Federal Building,” Montgomery County, Tennessee. National Register of Historic Places Form, 1972. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.

Historic American Buildings Survey. “United States Post Office (Federal Building).” Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Accessed July 28, 2016. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer
/tn/tn0100/tn0109/data/tn0109data.pdf.

Lewis, Sue. Phone interview by Claudette Stager. March 9, 2015.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Claudette Stager
Coordinator: 
Gavin Townsend
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Data

Timeline

  • 1897

    built

Citation

Claudette Stager, "Customs House Museum and Cultural Center", [Clarksville, Tennessee], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/TN-01-125-0089.

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