GSA’s monumental courthouses and custom houses often receive the most attention, but the smaller and lesser known U.S. Border Inspection Stations tell their own important story in our nation’s history. Recently, the GSA Center for Historic Buildings studied and documented these historic buildings, resulting in the U.S. Border Inspection Stations Multiple Property Submission to the National Register of Historic Places.
In the 1920s, automobiles roared in increasing numbers across the American landscape, ushering in a need for a new federal building type. Before the twentieth century, most people and goods entering the U.S. came by water. But improved transportation, new taxes and laws, and prohibition soon changed immigration and customs forever, and the government authorized and constructed 59 new border inspection stations.
While the old facilities were often inconveniently located in a wide variety of adapted buildings—with inspectors at remote stations sometimes even living in remodeled rail freight cars—the new purpose-built stations were designed based on standardized plans. Size and needs for the specific station, as well as the region and climate, were considered. Many incorporated architectural styles reflecting the country’s diverse heritage, including Spanish Colonial Revival and Pueblo Revival in the Southwest, Log Cabin in the Northwest, and Georgian Revival in the Northeast. These buildings served to manage increased crossings, control smuggling of illegal goods, and provide fair and adequate service to the public.
GSA’s historic preservation program actively nominates buildings to the National Register, and 374 GSA buildings are recognized in this official list of the country’s most significant places. Among these are 57 border station buildings constructed between 1931 and 1943, which collectively symbolize the United States, its culture, and its heritage.