The United States Customs Service has designated a 200-year-old frame house affectionately called Custom House as a national landmark as it was the home and office of Henry Packer Dering, the first customs collector of New York.
Dering, a close confidant of President Washington, acquired the home in Sag Harbor, NY in 1793 when it was built with hand-hewn timber around 1765. The restoration on the building, which cost the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities $40,000, was completed last week hence the first opening to the public.
At ceremonies marking the Dering house as a landmark, United States Customs Commissioner Myles J. Ambrose said, “This venerable frame house has been a focus not only for East End Long Islanders but for mercantile history buffs from across the nation.” At the same time, Mr. Ambrose announced plans for a national program that will recognize similar historic sites as national landmarks.
According to Commissioner Ambrose, “This program supports the Federal Government's efforts to accelerate the preservation of historic landmarks by identifying landmarks in preparation for the bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution four years hence.” The Sag Harbor Custom House is important historically, says Mr. Ambrose, because Sag Harbor was once home to one of the country’s most prominent whaling fleets as well as an important port.
Long Island's Custom House was built in the first port of entry known to Long Island as Sagg-Harbour, according to Henry F. Ludder Jr. of the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities. Mr. Ludder reports that the Customs House on Union Street stood opposite the Old Whaler's Church during the Dering family's time. Currently, it stands opposite the Whaling Museum on Garden Street.
“The Old SaggHarbour Committee and late Governor Charles Edison of New Jersey were responsible for saving the house in 1947 that narrowly escaped destruction,” Mr. Ludder added. A quarter of an acre of land now surrounds the house, which was moved there in 1948.
It was Mr. Dering's 1820 household inventory that assisted in the restoration of the house, according to Mr. Ludder. As a result of the inventory, Mr. Ludder said, the society would be able to furnish the house with some of its original furniture. Some items were also contributed by members of the Dering family.
One of the guests at last week's ceremony was 91 years old Frank Corwin, the last official at the Sag Harbor Customs office before the office was moved to Greenport in 1913. Throughout the early years of the Republic, customs levies were the primary source of revenue, and Sag Harbor was a major whale oil port.
In 1837-1847, the whale oil decade lasted and when more than eight hundred Long Island whalesmen migrated to California during the Gold Rush, the same ships that once carried whale oil were loaded with gold and with whale oil. By 1870, whale oil had ceased production and the last Sag Harbor whaling ship sailed from Sag Harbor in 1871.
July 1, 1913, saw the dissolution of the Sag Harbor Customs district, and this office became part of the New York collection district.