Old Customs House
Completed in 1839 as the Erie branch of the U.S. Bank of Pennsylvania, the Erie Art Museum’s home is more commonly known as the Old Customs House. Designed by architect William Kelly, the building is an elegant example of the Greek Revival style.
The ceiling of the main room features egg and dart, anthemion, and Greek key patterns arranged in a circle. The architect’s name is carved into the portico, and can be easily seen from the doorway. The facade is Vermont marble, brought from the quarry to the Erie Canal by oxcart, then to Buffalo, and across Lake Erie. The interior layout of the building is simple and symmetrical. The main floor features a vestibule leading into the large main room. In each corner is a smaller room. Between the two rear rooms is a bank vault, which now houses an elevator.
By 1843, the bank had gone out of business, and in 1849 the building was sold to the U.S. government for use as a customs house. The U.S. Post Office moved into the building in 1853 and shared it with Customs Department officials until 1867. Customs occupied the building until 1888. The building was later used by the Grand Army of the Republic as a meeting hall. During the 1960’s the building was acquired by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which restored it for use as a museum.
Today, the building houses the Erie Art Museum’s galleries, offices, classrooms, and collections. It is supplemented at 423 State by the Frame Shop Gallery, classroom, storage and theater space in the Erie Art Museum Annex, and by a clay studio and artists’ studios in the ArtWorks building, 1505 State.