The Custom House
The Chicago Custom House is rated as the most important of all the local branches of the Federal service. An account of its earlier years, the making of Chicago a port of entry, and the re-appointment of William B. Snowhook as collector, on March 18, 1853, appears at length in the first volume of this work. Mr. Snowhook was the first collector of the port, receiving his appointment direct from President Polk; and when the Democrats again came into power, he succeeded Jacob Russell, who has served under the Whig administration. The Custom office was at this time in the Starkweather Building, on LaSalle Street, near Randolph. Collector Snowhook remained in office until July 10, 1855, when he was succeeded by Philip Conly, who retained the office until the advent of President Buchanan's administration, when, on March 31, 1857, Jacob Fry was appointed his successor. Mr. Fry assumed possession of the office early in May, and served until June 15, 1858, when he was removed, and Bolton F. Strother, a lawyer, was appointed in his stead. Collector Strother managed the office until after the inauguration of President Lincoln in 1861. The business of the Custom House in 1857 was greater than that of any other government department, the value of exports being $1,585,096, the imports from Canada $326,325, and the total duties collected on imports $143,009.23. The collector of customs was formerly, ex officio, sub-treasurer, called a "depositary," and had charge of all the government collections, being paid a percentage on the money handled. In 1854-55, the business of the port assumed such proportions as to demand much work in its management, and it was not until then that any clerical force aside from the collector and his deputy, were employed. Under Mr. Conly, Thomas J. Kinsella was deputy collector, and Frederick C. Russell under Mr. Strother. In 1866, four men performed the work of the office, but from that time forward it demanded.extra force. On March 30, 1861, Julius White was appointed to succeed Mr. Strother as collector, but he resigned a few months afterward, to take the colonelcy of a regiment then formed in Chicago. From October 3, 1861, to March 9, 1866, the office was filled by Luther Haven, and from March 10, 1866, until June 30, 1866, the office was managed by Thomas J. Kinsella, as acting collector. During the last year of Collector Strother's management, the office was removed from LaSalle Street to the newly erected government building, at the corner of Dearborn and Monroe streets. This building was known both as the Custom House and the Post-office. Portions of the site were purchased January 10, 1855, July 1, 1857, and January 26, 1865; the total cost being $68,600. The contract price of construction was $276,750, and the actual cost of construction $365,694. The total cost of the building up to June 30, 1871, including alterations and repairs was $505,618. It was almost destroyed in the great fire, only the walls being left standing. A short time prior to the fire, an appropriation of $11,956 was made for furnishing the building. This building was 80 by 150 feet in area, three stories and sub-basement, built of stone. It faced Dearborn and Monroe streets, and on the other two sides there were open courts. The Post-office occupied the basement and first floors -- the remaining floors were occupied by the Custom House and other departments.
Judge Walter B. Scates was collector from July 1, 1866 until June 30, 1869, and was succeeded by J. E. McLean, who served until July 17, 1872, when Hon. Norman B. Judd was appointed to the control of the department. In September, 1866, W. C. McElroy, of Baltimore, became deputy collector, and was succeeded by Charles M. Pullman as deputy.
Since 1869, the collector of customs has acted as the disbursing agent of the government, besides being the custodian of all public buildings in his district, including light-houses. In the latter part of 1871, or early in 1872, the United States Marine Hospital was taken out of his charge, and placed in that of the Surgeon of the Marine Hospital. In July, 1870, the "Immediate Transportation Act" went into effect, the law providing for immediate transportation of goods without appraisement" at the port of entry. Prior to this, specific duties only were in effect, and not a great deal of skill was required on the part of the officials or employes to conduct the business of the Custom House. When the act went into operation the labor increased, and the work was of a character to demand careful and constant attention. Some forty employes were required, and the annual expenses of collection were upwards of $55,000. The effect of the act was to require the same methods of business, and proportionately the same number of employes, as the New York Custom House.
The only lake ports at this date exceeding the customs tonnage at Chicago were Buffalo and Oswego, and their excess was derived from a greater number of unrigged vessels, such as barges and canal-boats.
John Hitt was appointed deputy collector under Collector Scates in 1867, and served under subsequent collectors in the same capacity. After the great fire, the Custom House business was transacted in temporary quarters in Congress Hall, a hotel at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Congress Street. Dry goods boxes were used in lieu of counters and desks, and Custom-house permits were made out on the printed menu cards of the hotel. After an experience of seven months in these cramped and inconvenient quarters, the business was removed to the Republic Life Insurance Company's building, in Arcade Court, the removal taking place May 2, 1872. There the Custom House remained until the completion of the new government building.
The annexed table shows by years the receipts at the port of Chicago from August 27, 1846, to June 30, 1871, an amount of duties on imports, tonnage duty, marine hospital collections, and the expenses of collecting the revenue from customs :
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A selection of marine information and illustrations from this magnificent three volume history of Chicago.