U.S. Land Port of Entry - St. John, St. John, ND

The St. John Land Port of Entry consists of a main port building and a shed structure located on several acres of property in northern North Dakota. The Port of Entry faces northeast onto a curving State Highway 30 immediately south of the international border with Canada. Originally, two stand alone residences were located to the north and south of the main port building. The residences were disposed of out of federal ownership and subsequently sold and relocated into the town of St. John in 2008. The Port of Entry is located 10 miles northeast of the very small town of St. John, North Dakota, population approximately 300, in a semi-isolated setting of rolling fields of spring wheat, barley, and canola fields, with mature cedar tree specimen groupings nearby the subject property. The St. John main port building is a rectangular plan, 1 ½ -story side gabled port building of wood frame construction, clad in English Course brick veneer. Affixed to either side of the primary building are two, one-story, hipped gable, 4-bay garage wings clad in painted metal clapboard. The symmetrical relationship of the two one-story wings attached to a 1 ½ story central building mass associates the Inspection Station to the Colonial Revival design system, in which the entire St. John property is designed, including the two standalone residences, now removed. The original drawings indicate that the roofs of both garage wings and the primary building were originally clad in wood shingles, but may have been clad in asphalt shingles based on some photographic evidence. Currently, all roofs have been replaced with modern asphalt shingles. Both the primary building and the wings of the main port building feature contain non-original 1/1 metal frame double hung windows at the first and second levels. Affixed to the front elevation of the primary building is a centered addition; rectangular plan running course brick kiosk that traverses over the three middle bays of the original building facade. The addition was constructed in 2004. This kiosk contains 4 bays of 1/1 windows at its front elevation. Its entry, which is also now the primary entry into the building, is a storefront aluminum door with side lighting and a large transom window. Located at the side of the kiosk, this entry faces south. The two original, exposed window bays at either end of the front elevation are topped with gauge brick jack arching with a centered and enlarged concrete keystone, and underscored with concrete sills. Inset beneath the northernmost of these window bays is a rectangular commemorative plaque. The windows in the kiosk are topped by jack arching, but without the keystone. An ogee–molded wood cornice runs across the front elevation, and beneath the roof line across the rest of the primary building. Despite the presence of this kiosk, which is a later addition, the front elevation of the primary building maintains a strong degree of symmetry. Affixed to the front of the primary building is a flat-roofed, two-lane porte cochere supported by thin metal columns with beaded astragals and a square cushion. The columns are standalone, except at the outer corners of the porte cochere where they are set in groups of three. All columns rest on rounded corner concrete islands. The roof of the porte cochere feature is edged with simple beading detail underscored by a fascia. The words “U.S. Customs and Border Protection” are written in a Roman font with serif across the fascia at the porte cochere’s north and south sides. Attached to each side of the primary building are the two one-level garage wings. Each wing consists of a four bay inspection garage, with a recently expanded garage bay, located at the width or gable end of the south wing. Though these bays are still extant, the innermost bay of the southern wing now has a pedestrian entrance for restrooms, and a kitchenette for the use of the border station employees. The innermost bay of the northern wing is fitted with a 1/1 metal frame window and is now used for office space. The width or gable end of the north wing features a large pair of 1/1 metal frame windows with wide board wood surrounds. The garage doors themselves are of a metal shiplap design. In 2004, the southern most garage was converted into a small search room / storage area and a small kitchen was added in this space. A new garage door was added to the south elevation of the garage. The rear of the main port building features two symmetrically placed pairs of 1/1 double hung windows of the type present at the front elevation. Located off-center due slightly north on the rear elevation are two adjacent thin shaped, double hung slit-windows. Like the rest of the non-basement windows upon the primary unit of the port building, these narrow windows are underscored with concrete sills and crowned with jack arching. These are original and were once the windows at the Men's and Women's restrooms. The paired 1/1 windows are also topped with a centered concrete keystone design. A basement rear entry, accessible by a concrete stairwell that descends into the grade, is also present at the rear elevation. The rear roof of the primary building has a horizontal, painted clapboard shed dormer with four single ranked bays of 1/1 metal frame, double hung windows. Above the dormer is a square shaped, centered, running course brick chimney. The lower portion of the sides of the primary building are conjoined to the garage wings, and are therefore not visible. The upper portion of the side elevation contains the gable ends, which are underscored at each side by a pair of cornice returns. Below the peak of each gable end is a pair of small 1/1 windows underscored with one continuous concrete sill, and topped by a brick soldier course. The sides and rear of the garage wings plus the rear of the primary building are all circumscribed by a continuous concrete water table. In the primary building this water table also indicates the basement level. The rear elevation of each garage wing contains four evenly spaced window bays each with the 1/1 metal frame window found at other elevations across the building. Interior The interior of the St. John main port building is bilaterally divided into halves. Originally, one half was for U.S. Customs Service and the other half for Immigration Service. This symmetry is largely delineated by two base and crown molded, five panel wood, rectangular service desks located at either side of the centered, original entryway. Centered between these desks is a public waiting lobby. Centered in the rear section of the primary building is a quarter turn stair with metal “matchstick” balusters and paneled, square newel posts with molded, apexes crowns. At the entrance to the stairway at the first level is an engaged column with base molding and crown detail, topped with a wood surface similar to that on each service desk. Beaded baseboard molding runs across the bottom of both desks and across the walls of the public service area, before it continues up the stairwell. Beaded wood surrounds are present around the windows at the first level within the public service area. The St. John Land Port of Entry is set back on the property, just off Hwy. 30. The area in front of the main port building features concrete paved parking spaces and lanes that lead through the porte cochere. An original, mast style flagpole with balloon finial is placed in the center of a round cornered grass island situated front and middle of the property. Round-edged macadam curbs are present at the edge of the frontal concrete pavement where it meets the yard areas. Mowed lawn is present between each resource and runs continuously behind all three of them. Behind this rear yard, the rear edge of the property is lined with a row of tall, mature cedar tree specimens. Alterations Recent kiosk added to front elevation of primary building; columns beneath the porte cochere are reconfigured; numerous window replacements on the main port building and the removal of the original residences; metal cladding added to garage wings; front gabled enclosed entry added to each residence (though probably very early); pedestrian entry added to the inner bay of each garage wing; garage bay expanded at side elevation of south garage wing.

The U.S. Land Port of Entry -- St. John was included in the Multiple Property Submission (MPS) for U.S. Border Inspection Stations and Associated Points of Entry, States Bordering Canada and Mexico (Border Station MPS). As demonstrated in the history description section, the St. John Port of Entry retains most aspects of integrity and meets the registration requirements in the MPS to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A and C, at the local level of significance, period of significance 1931. It retains most of its original program elements, and well demonstrates the historic characteristics of Border Station MPS Property Type Number 3: 1 1/2 story office with garage wings and separate living quarters (now removed).

U.S. Land Port of Entry--St. John, ND: Significance
The various elements of the St. John Port, including the primary building, the porte cochere, and the two attached garage wings, are original (with alterations) and were constructed in 1931. The overall building program remains intact and is an example of the Colonial Revival design style with Georgian design influences. Upon the primary unit and its wings, this Colonial Revival detailing makes itself present through the combination of: a strongly symmetrical lengthwise massing featuring a taller centered mass flanked by identical lower wings; English bond brickwork; classically inspired Tuscan influenced column designs; side gabled primary building; ogee style cornice molding with cornice returns at the gable ends; gauged brick jack arching often with centered keystone; and a centered chimney.

Because of the rural, if not isolated locations of many of the border stations, the inspection stations originally often included living quarters, either within the primary building or as standalone residences. Originally located to the north and south of the St. John Port of Entry were two identical, freestanding residences, also of the Colonial Revival design style. Where the inspection station features Georgian inspired motifs, the residences were of the "Cape Cod" inspired Colonial revival design. The architectural style features that were associated with the now relocated residences that associated them with the Colonial Revival style include a combination of: side gabling; ogee molding underscored with a running fascia; cornice returns; clapboard cladding with corner boards; and a rectangular brick chimney placed off center upon the ridgeline. The residences were disposed of in 2008 and relocated to nearby St. John, ND.

The original renderings for the St. John Port depict a "Property Type Number 4" (2-story, 4 or 5-bay Special Office Building) design that was never built upon the site. The St. John Port and two residences are, however, identical in plan to the Ambrose, North Dakota Port of Entry. If it was the Ambrose renderings that were employed, then the St. John IPort is true to the original form in regards to integrity.

The renderings for the St. John Port of Entry date from 1932 (1931), when James Wetmore was the acting Supervising Architect of the Treasury. Wetmore however, had no formal architectural training, and effectively directing Wetmore’s office during this period was Louis A. Simon, who had worked with the Treasury continually since 1896. Most likely, it was Simon who developed the designs for the St. John and Ambrose Inspection Stations. Simon, trained in architecture at MIT, was instrumental in the image of 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].

In 1933, Simon became the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, a post he held until 1939. During Simon’s tenure, the Department of the Treasury was the largest architectural office in the United States, with over 700 million dollars worth of various Post Offices, Border Checkpoints, Custom Houses, and other Federal buildings. The construction of United States border stations, inspection stations, and customs and immigration inspection stations were approved by legislation under the Act of June 25, 1910. The spate of Public Works Administration (PWA) era of construction, and the construction of this particular border station, initially resulted from the Public Buildings Act of 1926, a Congressional enabling act that doubled the number of U.S. Federal buildings in existence.

The St. John Port of Entry evolved from the contexts of Prohibition (1919-1933), the increased popularization of automobile travel, and the Public Works Administration that developed out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Contributing also to the need for an increase in Border Stations by 1919 was the imposition of head taxes and literacy tests on Canadian immigrants beginning in 1917 that had resulted in a sharp increase of illegal entry attempts into the United States.

The St. John Port of Entry has retained a fair amount of Colonial Revival design features and still successfully projects its intended association of American architecture at the international border. The main port building retains its original location in a pastoral, farm-like setting with rolling hills and mature pine specimens that is relatively unchanged from its period of significance. In feeling, the St. John Port of Entry successfully conveys its intended set of values and images, which are now historically associated with PWA-era Federal architecture as a whole. It features the Colonial Revival design style often used for governmental buildings during this time; one that was consciously associated to the American heritage and American past since the 1876 Centennial celebration which triggered a desire for an understanding of American architectural lineage. The Colonial Revival style, as depicted upon the inspection stations, was simultaneously intended to evoke feelings of patriotism, Americana, and strength. The style was therefore seen as the semantically appropriate one for the gateway and often first building viewed by immigrants, foreign tourists, and returning residents entering the United States.

Significance within the related Multiple Property Submission
The St. John Land Port of Entry was included in the Border Station MPS. The St. John Port is significant within all three historic contexts identified in the Border Station MPS, as follows:

* Within historic context no. 1, U.S. Border Stations, History and Function, the U.S. Border Inspection Stations designed from 1930-1939 and constructed from 1931-1943, are associated with a series of important events in United States history that would qualify them for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A.:
* The imposing of head taxes and literacy tests upon immigrants from Canada and Mexico beginning in 1917,
which, immediately resulted in widespread evasions;
* The passage of the Volstead Act and the ratification of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages between 1919 and 1933, that led to increased smuggling across international boundaries;
* Enactment of the Keyes-Elliot Public Buildings Act of 1926 that funded construction of U.S. Government Buildings in many states; and
* The increase in public mobility from the popularity and affordability of the automobile in the 1920s, that changed the volume of traffic entering the U.S. from water ports-of-entry to land border crossings.

Within historic context no. 2, U.S. Post Offices, Courthouses, Federal Buildings and other government buildings designed and constructed by the Treasury Department, 1864-1939, and historic context no. 3, U.S. Border Stations, Inspection Stations, and Customs and Immigration Inspection Stations, U.S. Borders with Canada and Mexico, 1931-1943, U.S. Border Inspection Stations represent an important and distinguishable property type related by function, location, chronological era, and design characteristics that would qualify them for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C. The common function was that the buildings were used as U.S. Border Stations, containing the functions of inspection, customs, immigration, or quarantine. The common location was that the stations were along the U.S. international boundaries with Canada and Mexico, or a major port of entry near the international boundary. The chronological era was quite narrow, 1930-1940 for design during the era of the Public Works Administration and 1931 to 1943 for construction. The common design was based on a series of five basic plans developed and designed by the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, which varied according to the specific size and function of the property.

Designs dating between 1930 and 1940 have been identified for at least 59 Border Inspection Stations, and at least 48 of these constructed between 1931 and 1943 are believed to still exist as of the year 2006. This is by far the largest and most cohesive group of U.S. Border Inspection Stations that share reason for authorization, design, plan, era, and function. The U.S. Inspection Station’s St. John, North Dakota, is representative of one of the property types identified in the Border Station MPS: Property Type Number 3: 1 ½ story office with garage wings and separate living quarters. The Property Type Number 3 design was used often and appears in extant Inspection Stations not only in North Dakota but also in Vermont, New York, Maine, and once in California, where it is done in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. Most of the type-3 designs were done in the northern states. The steep pitch roof combined with brick cladding of the primary building has been referred to as ¿Northern Style¿ design qualities in regards to the border stations. Such designs are ubiquitous in the northern states, where these features allow the building to buffer the affects of cold climates, rain, and snow.

According to the Registration Requirements of the Border Station MPS, "To be considered at a local level of significance, the main building must retain most of the seven aspects of integrity." As demonstrated in the Description section of this National Register registration form, the U.S. Inspection Station’s St. John, North Dakota retains integrity of location, setting, feeling, workmanship, and association, although the aspects of design and materials are diminished by the front addition. Certain modifications may have occurred in response to changing traffic volume or staffing that is part of the changing historic function of the border inspection stations, and would not necessarily disqualify the properties from registration. They may, on a case-by-case basis, lower the level of significance of a specific property from national to state, or state to local. Such acceptable alterations include:

* Alteration or removal of detached garages or residences, in cases where the main building retains integrity.
* Interior modifications.

As demonstrated in the Description section of this National Register registration form, the U.S. Inspection Station’s St. John, North Dakota, retains most of the seven aspects of integrity and therefore meets the registration requirements in the MPS to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A and C, at the local level of significance, period of significance 1931.


Description Architect
1931 1932 Original Construction James A. Wetmore/Louis A. Simon
Last Reviewed: 2021-09-24