Customs Residence, Mooers, NY
Location: 1511 Hemmingford Rd, Mooers, NY 12958
This is one of two inspector’s residences at the Mooers Border Inspection station. Three of the seven border inspection stations in New York were constructed as complexes with residences but only two of the complexes are intact, and of the two, these appear to be in better condition. The mirror image residences were designed to be stylistically complementary to the station, but to be more modest than the station buildings themselves. An effort was made by the Supervising Architect’s Office to design the buildings of the inspection stations to be compatible with the region in which they were built. Here a New England cape style house was the inspiration.
Even though a standard design was developed for these residences, comparison of construction photographs and original drawings, which are kept in the inspection station at Chateaugay, point out that some changes were made to the design during construction, mainly at the entries.
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.
Mooers was part of so-called Rum Trail which made Route 9 the chief path of entry for bootlegged liquor in upstate New York. Bootleggers ran liquor across the border at Mooers and followed Route 22 through West Chazy into Plattsburgh. At the time Prohibition was repealed, the Mooers border inspection station had just been completed.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. Mooers 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. Mooers was the last station to be constructed. It is still in active use, although the residences are unoccupied.
Statement of Eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places
The Mooers Border Inspection Station, which is a complex including two inspectors’ residences, 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 and their associated residences have national, state and local significance.
The station complex 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 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 Mooers residents were appointed customs inspectors.
The Mooers Border Inspection Station and residences are 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 station complex does not individually possess high artistic values, but it does represent a distinguishable entity, that of United States Border Stations [and in this case Border Station and Inspection Residences] whose components are nonetheless of artistic value. This residence at Mooers is a good example of the choice of a Neo-colonial style which was considered appropriate for the upstate New York region. Although it is now vacant and subject to deterioration, its construction is of the highest quality materials and workmanship. It has integrity of setting and feeling associated with its function.
There is no evidence that the site has yielded or may be likely to yield information important in prehistory or history.