Tobacco and Trolleys: Industry and Transportation
Antebellum Architecture
Richmond's African American Heritage
The Continuing legacy of Historic Preservation
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United States Post Office and Custom House

US Post Office and Customs House

United States Post Office and Custom House
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

 

Built in 1858 to house Richmond’s Federal customs house, post office, and courthouse, the original portion of the United States Post Office and Custom House is an imposing Italianate building. Its exterior is of local “Petersburg” granite, while the interior makes extensive use of cast iron structural components. Ammi B. Young, supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, designed the original center section. Young, an important architect of the period, was the designer of a number of innovative government buildings in the middle of the 19th century in cities throughout the United States.

When the Congress of the new Confederate States of America selected Richmond as its capital, the building played a significant role in the Civil War. It provided offices for Confederate President Jefferson Davis and other executive staff, including the Confederate Treasury Department. At the end of the Civil War, the Richmond evacuation fire of 1865 left much of Richmond in ruins. With its stout granite walls and inflammable roof, the courthouse was the only building in the area to survive the fire. Following the conflict, the Federal Government reoccupied the building. Ironically, in 1866, the Grand Jury of the United States District Court met on the third floor and indicted Jefferson Davis for treason. Davis returned to the courthouse in 1867 for a hearing but was granted amnesty and never stood trial.

US Customs House

U.S Post Office and Customs House
Virginia Department of Historic Resources

For much of the 19th century the building represented the extent of the Federal Government in Richmond. During that period, it housed the customs house, post office, and Federal courts under one roof. Later additions expanded the building to its current proportions. Mifflin E. Bell, the Federal supervising architect of that era, provided direction for the addition of one-bay-wide wings at the corner of the building in 1887-89. Additional expansions took place in 1910 and the early 1930s. These enlargements used the same locally quarried granite as the original section and continued the use of the Italianate style. The continuity of style and material has made the expansion of the building into its present-day three-part architectural composition relatively seamless.

The United States Postal Service vacated the building by 1991; only judicial functions remained. The courts did a master plan for the renovation and preservation of some of the most significant spaces within the original building, hoping to restore the finishes to their 1858 appearance. The first phase of the work took place in 1996-99, and included the restoration of a part of the Main Street lobby and office space on the third floor. The building remains in use by the Federal District Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The building is one of Richmond’s oldest and finest examples of government architecture.

Plan your visit
The United States Post Office and Customs House is located at 1000 E. Main St. close to Capitol Square. The building is accessible only to those doing business in the Federal courthouse. Hours are Monday-Friday from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
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