Inspection Station Types
The U.S. Border Inspection Stations built between 1931-1943 were a newly-invented, modern building type designed in response to the advent of the automobile. Usually located along the highway as one crossed the international border, U.S. Border Inspection Stations were often the first buildings people encountered when they entered the United States by road. The structures below were developed in part from interviewing government customs and immigration agents who worked at border crossings; these workers, and often their families, suffered under miserable conditions--often working and living in poorly-located tents, tiny shacks, and railroad box cars.
The majority of the border inspection stations on this website are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. What follows is an explanation of the border station categorization system, sometimes referred to as "property types." Property types cover the border station building specifications as well as ancillary buildings such as garages and living quarters.
Property Type Number 1: Three-bay, Standard Inspection Building
The physical characteristics of Property Type Number 1 are a three-bay, 1 or 1½-story standard office building with optional living quarters, garages, and ancillary buildings.
These stations were designed for low traffic volumes and generally had a one- or two-lane porte-cochere (a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway, sheltering those getting in or out of vehicles). The plans were highly symmetrical. Generally, the main entrance to the office building led to a central lobby that provided service counters and access to the immigration offices and customs offices to either side. The rear of the lobby featured restrooms and stairs to the upper level. The second level typically included two immigration rooms, a hallway, an immigration board room/storage, customs office, customs storage, and a closet. This station typically cost $55,000, plus the cost of the real estate.
Property Type Number 2: Five-bay Standard Inspection Building
The physical characteristics of Property Type Number 2 are a five-bady 1½- or 2-story standard office building with a four-bay garage wing, living quarters, and ancillary buildings.
These stations were designed for moderate traffic volumes and generally had a three- or four-lane porte-cochere. The plans were highly symmetrical but varied between the 1½- and 2-story station sub-types. Vehicular inspection garages adjacent to the main building flanked the respective immigration and customs offices.
The 1½ story sub-type often had detached residences for living quarters, while the 2-story sub-type typically featured the living quarters on the second level. This station typically cost $58,500, plus the cost of real estate.
The following examples share a similarity in that they are 1½ stories in height; Colonial Revival (Georgian) in style, with a side gable above the porte-cochere; built with brick exterior wall surfaces; and designed with a five-bay office with a four-bay garage wing. For the 1½ story stations, the main entrance leads to a central lobby that provides service counters and access to the immigration offices and customs offices to either side.
Property Type Number 3: Seven-bay Special Inspection Building
Property Type Number 3 is a two-story special office building. These buildings were located at borders with the highest traffic volumes. Only three of the 10 special inspection buildings are symmetrical in plan: Ferry Point, Maine; Chief Mountain, Montana; and Derby Line, Vermont. The rest are asymmetrical, as shown in this photo of a Property Type 3 station in Noyes, Minnesota. This station typically cost $73,000, plus the cost of real estate.
Variants Within the Designs
Along with the three standard types of buildings, there are some variations.
- Morley Gate, Arizona includes a small drive-up kiosk with Spanish Revival design features.
- At Ferry Point, Maine, the border inspection station is a two-story building with tall massing and Colonial Revival details, such as a bullseye window, which are not found on any other station.
- At Milltown, Maine, is a station with both land and water entry; it is located on a lake. (Not eligible for historic designation.)
- In New Orleans, Louisiana, among an enclave of buildings, is a water-based station that was also used for quarantine purposes. (Not eligible for historic designation.)
Often, border inspection stations included certain types of auxiliary structures. Most often, these were single-family houses that designed in a Cape Cod style.
Generally, inspectors from each agency (customs and immigration) were provided with separate detached single-story residences that were identical to each other. Each residence featured front and rear porches, two bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen, living room, bath, and closet. Often, when officers did not live in standalone houses, they lived inside the inspection building, either at the ground level or the second floor.
Other auxiliary buildings include cattle inspection pens, standalone garages, and truck inspection facilities.