U.S. Border Station-Fort Covington, Ft. Covington, NY
The Fort Covington Border Inspection station is located on the west side of Dundee Road in Fort Covington, New York on a 188,000 square foot lot. Set in an agricultural area, the station faces open fields on the east and has farms on the south. About one hundred feet west of the building is the Salmon River. The Canadian inspection station is within sight to the north. Cars are directed to the station from the north via an oval drive from the road.
While the site is surrounded by open fields, and bordered by the river, it has been landscaped in a formal arrangement typically found at border stations with a series of evergreen trees spaced across the side and rear yard. Fort Covington, however, also has mature hardwoods at the river edge. North of the station on the river is a docking area where docks are placed in season. Signs alert boaters to the border and a walkway leads from the inspection dock area to the station. There is a provision for car parking south of the station.
The station is three part in plan with a one and a half story, white painted brick central block and two single story weatherboarded wings on the north and south. The central block is five bays wide beneath a steeply pitched, end gable, slate roof. Unlike the other similar stations, there are not dormers on both sides of the roof, rather there is a shed roof dormer on the west side of the roof only, and one interior brick chimney. Windows are 12/12 vinyl replacement sash on the first floor and 8/8 vinyl replacement sash in the second floor dormer. There is a glass and aluminum replacement entry on the east with a single leaf door and sidelight beneath a transom. The wings are four bays long and one bay wide under hipped, slate covered roofs. The south wing is an inspection shed for vehicles and that on the north is a garage for government vehicles. All four garage bays on the south have been filled in: two were sealed, one enclosed with a pedestrian door, the fourth with a pair of handicap accessible bathrooms entered beneath a door hood. There is a new aluminum overhead door at the end of this wing. On the north wing, four bays have new wood overhead garage doors sheltered by a new standing seam metal and wood pent roof. Its end bay retains the paired 12/12 sash. The west facades of both wings have three and four bays of 12/12 sash.
A two lane inspection canopy on steel capped columns extends from the main block of the building at eaves level. A portion of the canopy over the outer lane was enlarged and raised in 1972, but the canopy section closer to the building is topped by segments of its original wrought iron railing. At the easternmost end of the canopy is a flag pole island with a wrought iron railing.
On the first floor interior, a vestibule is formed by two parallel paneled counters on left and right of the entry. There are two small bathrooms directly across from the entry to the right of a stair which connects the basement to the second floor. Left of the stair the space is divided into an office by a wall with three glass windows and a door topped by glass transoms, all added in 1935. The area on the right is repartitioned.
Interior finishes are typical for the border stations with plaster walls, architrave door surrounds, picture rail and baseboards defining the spaces. The first floor has been laid with a new tile surface in the public area. Original lighting fixtures have been replaced with ceiling hung fluorescent fixtures. The cement floored basement is divided into two mechanical rooms and a storage/mechanical room. The two end rooms have their original ornamental, two paneled doors with patterned panels. The second floor has hardwood and linoleum floors and two side by side detention rooms with their original barred and paneled entry doors, replacement sinks, and toilets. There is one office room and a long eaves room across the east which is used for storage.
The Fort Covington Border Inspection Station in Fort Covington, New York is one of seven existing border inspection stations built between 1931 and 1934 along the New York and Canadian border. Colonial Revival in style, the building was designed by Louis A. Simon, Superintending Architect of the Architectural Division of the Treasury, and constructed in 1933 during the tenure of William H. Woodin, Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence W. Robert, Jr., Assistant, and James A Wetmore, Acting Supervising Architect. Border stations were constructed by the federal government in several New England states along the border with Canada during the 1930s and several common plans and elevations can be discerned among the remaining stations. Fort Covington shares with the others a residential scale, a Neo-colonial style, and an organization to accommodate functions of both customs and immigration services.
Border Stations are associated with four important events in United States history: the imposition of Prohibition between 1919 and 1933; enactment of the Elliot-Fernald public buildings act in 1926 which was followed closely by the Depression; and the popularity of the automobile whose price was increasingly affordable thanks to Henry Ford’s creation of the industrial assembly line. The stations were constructed as part of the government’s program to improve its public buildings and to control casual smuggling of alcohol which most often took place in cars crossing the border. Their construction was also seen as a means of giving work to the many locally unemployed.
The Fort Covington border inspection station is an example of the more modest, rural version of the border stations also found at Chateaugay, Champlain, Rouses Point (Overtons Corner) and Mooers, New York. While the stations have all sustained systematic alterations, they have retained, in varying degrees, most of their original fabric. This station is in both exterior and interior a good example of the building type, but of the five similar stations, it has been altered the most. It is the only station to control a border over both land and water. Drawings indicate that it was planned to have two inspection residences at the site, although none remains today.
The era of Prohibition begun in 1919 with the Volstead Act and extended nationwide by the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920, resulted in massive bootlegging along the Canadian border. In New York, early efforts to control bootlegging were carried out by a small number of Customs officers and border patrol officers who were often on foot and horseback. In many cases New York Custom Houses were a mile or so south of the border and travelers were expected to stop in and report their purchases. The opportunity to remedy this situation and support enforcement of the Prohibition laws was offered by enactment of the Elliot-Fernald public buildings act of 1926 which authorized the governments through the Treasury Department to accelerate its building program and began its allocation with $150,000,000 which it later increased considerably.
Fort Covington was west of the so-called Rum Trail which made Rouses Point the chief point of entry for bootlegged liquor in upstate New York, but it was a necessary border station for control. At the time Prohibition was repealed, the Fort Covington border inspection station had just been completed. However, the end of Prohibition did not mean the end of smuggling, as the public had developed a taste for Canadian liquor and its bootleggers had discovered the money that could be made smuggling raw alcohol into Canada where prices for it were considerably higher. Fort Covington continued to operate to interdict this activity.
While the seven New York border inspection stations had been designated for construction as early as 1929, land acquisition and the designing and bidding process was stalled at various stages for each of the buildings and their construction took place unevenly over a period of five years. Fort Covington was constructed among the last of the stations. It is still in active use.
Statement of Eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places
The Fort Covington Border Inspection Station is one of seven border stations in New York which are eligible for the National Register according to Criteria A, B and C. The stations have national, state and local significance.
The station is associated with three events which converged to make a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history: Prohibition, the Public Buildings Act of 1926 and the mass-production of automobiles. Although this border station was not completed until a year before the repeal of Prohibition, it was planned and built as a response to the widespread bootlegging which took place along the border with Canada and continued to serve as important role after 1933 when smuggling continued in both directions across the border. The station has been in active use for sixty one years.
Conceived in a period of relative prosperity, the Public Buildings Act came to have greater importance to the country during the Depression and funding was accelerated to bring stimulus to state and local economies by putting to work many of the unemployed in building and then manning the stations. Local accounts make clear the number of jobs the station created. Local labor was used to build the station and Fort Covington residents were appointed customs inspectors.
The Fort Covington Border Inspection Station is associated with the life of Louis A. Simon, FAIA, who, as Superintendent of the Architect’s Office, and then as Supervising Architect of the Procurement Division of the United State Treasury Department, was responsible for the design of hundreds of government buildings between 1905 and 1939. During his long tenure with the government, Simon, trained in architecture at MIT, was instrumental in the image of the government projected by its public buildings, an image derived from classical western architecture, filtered perhaps through the English Georgian style or given a regional gloss, but one which continues to operate in the collective public vision of government. Simon was unwavering in his defense of what he considered a “conservative-progressive” approach to design in which he saw “art, beauty, symmetry, harmony and rhythm” [American Architect and Architecture, August, 1937, vol. 151, p.51]. The debate which his approach stirred in the architectural profession may still be observed in the fact that he is often omitted in architectural reference works.
The border inspection stations do not individually possess high artistic values, but they do represent a distinguishable entity, that of United States Border Stations whose components are nonetheless of artistic value. This station at Fort Covington is a fine example of the choice of a Neo-colonial style which was considered appropriate for the upstate New York region. The fact that its roof pitch is steeper than its Vermont counterparts suggests the station was adapted to reflect the state’s Dutch stylistic heritage. Its construction is of the highest quality materials and workmanship. It has integrity of setting and feeling associated with its function, and has retained the integrity of its materials.
There is no evidence that the site has yielded or may be likely to yield information important in prehistory or history.