U.S. Customs House and Post Office/ Court House Annex
2014 photo of U.S. Custom House & PO/Courthouse Annex N & W sides (Racliffe-Trennor & Bovino)
U.S. Custom House/Post Office (left) on vintage linen postcard (figure in Radcliffe-Trenner & Bovino 2014)
First floor plan with significant interior spaces marked (Radcliffe-Trenner and Bovino 2014)
2014 view of east end of the Courthouse Annex building (Radcliffe- Trenner & Bovino)
part of south facade and ventilation tower in 2014 photo (Radcliffe-Trenner & Bovino)
Flemish lion and shield ornament in stairwell in 2014 photo (Radcliffe-Trenner & Bovino)
View of an interior vaulted vestibule in 2014 (Radcliffe-Trenner & Bovino)
Backstory and Context
The U.S. Congress enacted in June 1888 "an act for the erection of a public building in Paterson." The act appropriated $80,000 to buy a lot and build a structure to house a Post Office and other federal government offices. The building was required to contain fire-proof vaults and be not less than 40 feet from another building, to reduce chances of catching on fire. The architects were master architects for the U.S. Department of the Treasury: William Martin Aiken and James Knox Taylor. It took years for the project to take shape because the funds allotted at first were too low and the residents of Patterson objected to the building's first proposed location. A second act of Congress in early 1892 raised the allotment for the site and building to $200,000. After more searching for a site, the federal government purchased a part of the Colt's Hill property in early 1893 for $22,000. It may have been chosen because the high ground would be unlikely to flood, and it was between the riverfront factories and the train depot, so convenient for a Custom House. The supervisor of construction was Fred Wesley Wentworth and the contractor was McIlvain, Unkefer Company. The Post Office moved into the building in late September 1899. The building served as the Post Office and Customs House until 1933 when a new Post Office was constructed at the corner of Market and Straight Streets. The building was sold to Passaic Couty in 1935 for $50,000.
The U.S. Customs House and Post Office building is significant as the work of architectural masters and for its high artistic value. The distinctive design is recognizable as Dutch-inspired by its stepped and quoined gables and its Zeeland lion and shield motifs. Some of the town's early workers were Flemish silk-spinners and weavers. The building is three stories tall over a basement. The building's main entrance is on the west end facing Hamilton Street, with three pronounced stepped gables. Three towers top the building, including a clock tower on the north side, facing Ward St., above a secondary, central bay entrance. Another tower is octagonal, containing a stair tower near the north side of the structure. The third tower, on the south side, facing the Old Passaic County Court House, is for ventilation. The complex, steeply-pitched roof is covered in clay tiles. Some of the distinctive features of the interior are the vaulted entrance halls, grand staircase, and the 1936 Art Deco style Hearing Room/ Freeholder Room. When Passaic County bought the building from the federal government in 1936, the two-story-tall room that held the U.S. Post Office workroom, near the east end of the building, was modified by adding a floor to create a second story. An underground tunnel connected the newly-christened Passaic County Court House Annex to the Passaic County Court House in 1936.
Passaic County closed the Court House Annex building to the public in 2011. Nearly $4 million was appropriated by the county in 2017 for renovations to the Court House Annex; some of the rest of the ca. $8 million came from grants. LAN Associates of Midland, New Jersey, carried out the renovations while respecting the historic character of the building and "consolidating New Jersey Courts System in one complex." The project started with asbestos abatement and demolition, and then moved to refurbish historic finishes, adding new mechanical/ electrical/ plumbing/ elevators, and new interior finishes. The building now contains some county judicial offices, including Passaic County Family Court, Small Claims Court, and Superior Court Probation Division.
LAN Associates LLC. LAN Breaks Ground on $8M Historic Passaic County Courthouse Annex Restoration, Lan Associates, News. December 13th 2017. Accessed March 21st 2021. https://lanassociates.com/news/lan-breaks-ground-8m-historic-passaic-county-courthouse-annex-restoration.
Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Meeting Minutes, June 12th, 2017, Passaic County New Jersey. June 30th 2017. Accessed March 19th 2021. https://www.passaiccountynj.org/Departments/Freeholders/2017%20Agendas/jun%2012th,%202017.pdf.
U.S. Congress. Legislation of the Fiftieth Congress of the United States, Session 1. Washington, DC. U.S. Government Printign Office, 1888.
Radcliffe-Trenner, Annabelle. Bovino, Leaha. NRHP Nomination of Passaic County Courthouse & U.S. Custom House and Post Office Historic District. National Register. Washington, DC. National Park Service, 2014.