The Walk to the Sea panel at Government Center has been temporarily removed to facilitate an MBTA remodeling project.
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The shipbuilding industry that enlivened Boston's waterfront for two centuries ended with the advent of steamships around the time of the Civil War. Port operations diminished. Boston's maritime infrastructure became obsolete.

In the 20th century, the proud Custom House came to dominate a waterfront in decline. Instead of shipped goods, the vacant wharves began to store a different kind of commodity — parked cars for downtown office workers.

Within a generation, however, the bustle at Boston's waterfront returned. The ships and longshoremen were gone. Great granite warehouses were converted to apartments, and cultural institutions, such as the New England Aquarium, were built. Hotels took choice waterfront locations. Tourist cruises and pleasure boats re-enlivened the docks. Today, the waterfront is once again crowded with activity, its uses re-imagined.

The Greek Revival style of the Custom House, completed in 1847, reflected both contemporary fashion and the building's lofty purpose. The customs offices oversaw the sovereign interests of a young state and nation by supervising and taxing cargo.

The Custom House was built so close to the water that the bowsprits of arriving ships could touch it, though the shoreline has since moved.

Around 1913, the federal government built a 433-foot tower to enlarge the Custom House. For nearly a half century the tower dominated Boston's skyline, while, ironically, waterfront activity and port services declined.

Finally, in the 1960s, investment returned to Boston and new skyscrapers began to form the modern skyline. Boston's deserted wharves came back to life. Old warehouses and new buildings along the waterfront accommodated apartments, hotels, and cultural activities.

In 1995, after undergoing other changes of use, the Custom House was converted to timeshare apartments.