U.S. Customs House

The First Southern Post-Civil War Court

The courthouse which signified the end of the Reconstruction Era

The U.S. Customs House first opened in 1882 and housed Nashville’s first post office. It was also home to the federal Justice and Treasury Departments. The building exemplifies the Victorian Gothic style architecture and was designed by William Appelton Potter. President Rutherford B. Hayes initiated the erection of the Customs House in 1877 after his first visit to the South since the Civil War. The building was evidence of Hayes’ promise to end Reconstruction in the South. This was the first federal building of its type in the South since the end of the Civil War.

Over the years, the building was expanded to include the wings and the oak-paneled courtroom that is still used today by the United States Bankruptcy Court. The first judge to reside in this courtroom was U.S. District Judge Edward Terry Sanford, who was later promoted to the United States Supreme Court. The “platinum case” was one of Judge Sanford’s most famous cases. In 1920, $250,000 of platinum went missing from the Old Hickory Powder Plant. H.B Crone, a chemist who worked at the plant, and three others were tried and convicted by Judge Sanford. This case marked one of the largest thefts ever committed in Tennessee.

Bankruptcy, civil, and municipal trials were tried in this building until the middle of the 20th century. The post office relocated in 1935. Courts followed this example in 1952, transferring to building locations on Eighth Avenue. The Customs House was rarely used after this transition, but after a hard campaign, the Customs House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Ownership of the building transferred to Metro Nashville Government in 1977, and restoration continued on the structure. The bankruptcy court moved back into the building in 1982.