The Rouses Point-St. Johns Highway Border Inspection Station in Rouses
Point, New York is one of seven existing border inspection stations
built between 1931 and 1934 along the New York and Canadian border. It is also one of two stations in Rouses Point. Georgian Revival in style, the building was designed by the Office of the Acting Supervising Architect of the Treasury, James A. Wetmore, during tenure of the Secretary of the Treasury, William H. Woodin, and constructed in 1933. By the time of its completion, Louis A. Simon had become Supervising Architect. Border stations were constructed by the federal government in both New York and Vermont during the 1930s and several common plans and elevations can be discerned among the remaining nineteen stations. Rouses Point-St. Johns 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 Rouses Point-St. Johns border station is the most elaborate of the
New York stations and is among the best preserved. While the buildings have all sustained systematic alterations, they have retained, in varying degrees, most of their original fabric. This station is on both exterior and interior a fine example of the building type, its character defining features well-maintained and intact.
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 government through the Treasury Department to accelerate its building program and began its allocation with $150,000,000 which it later increased considerably.
Rouses Point was the single most important town in New York at the
Canadian border during Prohibition. Bootlegging alcohol along St.
John's Highway from Rouses Point to Plattsburgh was so active that the
road came to be known as the Rum Trail and ran right in front of the old Custom House in the town center over a mile away from the border. The old station was the hub for custom inspectors and border patrol agents who foiled many attempts at bringing liquor across the border, but missed many more. Control of Rouses Point was understood to be
critical, so it received two border inspection stations; one here and a second at Overtons Corner where the only paved road from Canada passed. By the time Prohibition was repealed, the Rouses Point-St. Johns 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.
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. Rouses Point-St. Johns was the second to the last to have been constructed. The station is still in active use.
Statement of Eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places
The Rouses Point Border Inspection Station on St. John's Highway 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 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 Rouses Point residents were appointed customs inspectors. The fact that they were arresting neighbors, if not family members, only occasionally affected the zeal with which the inspectors carried out their duties. Once provided with an adequate number of automobiles to meet their adversaries on equal footing, their enforcement success improved.
Rouses Point 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 Rouses Point is a fine example, and the most elaborate of the border stations, of the Georgian Revival style. 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.