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 Victorian Gothic style architecture and was designed by William Appelton Potter. President Rutherford B. Hayes initiatiated the erection of the customs house came 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 court room 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 was 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 and the courts soon followed suit in 1952, transferring to buildings on Eighth Avenue. The customs house was rarely used after that, but after a hard campaign, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Ownership of the building transferred to Metro Nashville Government in 1977, and that body proceeded to restore the structure. The bankruptcy court move back into the building in 1982.