Georgetown Custom House and Post Office

Washington DC, United States | C.1858

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson

This is the tale of a post office that became the battleground in a town’s fight for its very existence. In 1779, Georgetown was established as a port of entry to the United States, giving it important status as it built its local economy. For decades, though, the point of entry was missing a proper home. In fact, no one has ever been able to pin down the site of the first custom house in Georgetown! In 1856, Congress made it right — giving the town the funds to build a permanent custom house and post office.

Two years later, the building was complete, perched atop an upward sloping hill just north of M Street. Modeled after the London clubhouses of Sir Charles Barry and the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, the Georgetown Custom House and Post Office brought elegance to the city and became an instant cornerstone in the neighborhood’s architecture.

As beautiful as it was, though, the building did little to bring harmony to the Georgetown area. Only six years after the grand opening of the Custom House, Senate Bill No. 210 hit the floor, proposing the abolishment of Georgetown as the port of entry and making the official port nearby in Washington, D.C.

Believing the bill was an attempt by Congress to destroy his city, the mayor of Georgetown led a valiant grassroots fight against it, ultimately prevailing in convincing the government that the Custom House should remain in Georgetown. Today, the Custom House has found a new home, but the Post Office remains on the first floor, letters and boxes still zipping through the halls that housed this American town’s fight for its very survival.

:memo: Written by: Drew Tweedy

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