, Newburyport, MA

Local News

June 22, 2013

A surprise visit to the Custom House

I got to know the Custom House for various reasons, since I was a child in the 1920s.

It intrigued me immensely because not only did I live in Market Square, but I actually was daily in and around the Custom House on Water Street, for the most part playing or doing errands for my father, who had his store almost directly across the street at 14 Market Square.

I would daily look at the immense Custom House and admire it, and I’d wonder about it for its beauty and its strength. I wondered, “What did it do?” “Why was it there?” All those questions often came to mind. Oh, yes! It was beautiful. It represented strength to me.

It had a distinct purpose. And, it had a job to do — however it was unknown to me what its job would be.

The years passed by and the Depression was upon us. I never saw anybody go in or out of the Custom House, although I would often run errands for my father and pass by it daily.

My history teacher, Miss Lutz in Newburyport High School, taught us somewhat about the Custom House. It was used as a meeting place. It almost could speak to me when I looked up at it as I passed by. It harbored a mystique about it. I, never realizing, the day would one day come to me and bring me answers to my questions.

I was a young man, working as a laborer for Benjamin Checkoway, and he had a need in his work (which was the demolition of buildings) for a storage warehouse for his goods and his salvaged materials gathered from building wrecking. So, he struck a deal with the city to utilize the Custom House as a place to store his wares from the demolition of other properties.

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