A custom house is a government office responsible for collecting customs and for clearing ships for entry and exit of the port. Salem's version was built in imposing Federalist style in 1819, facing the Derby Wharf at the juncture of Derby and Orange Streets.
Hawthorne was the custom house surveyor from 1846 after being nominated by James K. Polk, the newly-elected Democratic President. (It was established practice for a government to fill its departments with its own supporters and the Democratic Hawthorne sought benefit from this kind of political patronage throughout his career.) His post was supposed to last for four years but was terminated after three when the Whig leader, Zachary Taylor, became President.
Explore the custom house and its neighborhood using the street-view map below.