Captain Daniel Taylor was first assigned Lot 43 now occupied by the Customs House. Having not built on the lot the first year he forfeited the property which was then assigned to George Burton in 1706, for 160 pounds of tobacco. The lot was willed next to Christopher Haynes and his wife, the daughter of George Burton.
The British created a Customs Collector position in Yorktown to tax goods arriving in the colonies. Richard Ambler was appointed to the position for the Port of York River. In 1720, he purchased Lots 42 and 43 on the corner of Read and Main streets, paying 30 pounds on January 11, 1720. Sometime after that he built the Custom House.
Richard Ambler died in 1766 and his sons, John, Edward, and, all, in succession, became Customs Agents in Yorktown. Feeling the effects of the Revolution, Custom Agent Jaquelin Ambler moved his family to Jamestown. The property was sold to Thomas Wyld for 1,000 pounds. He operated an Ordinary in the home and storehouse until the arrival of the British in 1781.
Used as a barracks by the British, the Custom House during the fight in 1781, the French then wintered in it next. The Virginia Gazette wrote the property consisted of “a very commodious house with four rooms above and four below, as well as a brick warehouse.” There was also a kitchen, stable, wash house and a necessary house, and a well cultivated
The property was purchased in 1797 from Jaquelin Ambler by Alexander Macauley. Macauley died in 1859.
In 1862 the Custom House was used by General J.B. Magruder as his headquarters during the Civil War. During this time, the wooden residence was destroyed by fire. Civil War photographer Matthew Brady photographed the ruins of the home and the Custom House in 1865.
In 1882, the Custom House was auctioned off to Dr. Daniel McNorton for $980. Dr. McNorton, an African-American, was trained in New York as a physician. Dr. McNorton treated African-American clients residing in nearby Slab town and had his office in the Custom House. Dr. McNorton was one of the first African-Americans elected to the Virginia State Senate.
During Dr. McNorton’s possession of the building was used as a general store, and then a bank. After the bank closed, a barber shop conducted business on the second floor.
In 1917, the Custom House was once again pressed into wartime service as a home for military personnel. From there the building housed itinerant workers and their families who were working in Yorktown on construction jobs.
Mrs. Emma Leake Chenoweth moved to Yorktown in 1919. She was an early member of DAR and started a chapter in Yorktown. At the age of 61, Mrs. Chenoweth founded the Comte de Grasse Chapter on February 2, 1922. She then set out to purchase the Custom House.
In 1922, Mrs. Adele M. Blow, a descendent of Thomas Nelson, Jr. and a Comte de Grasse charter member, purchased the property from Dr. McNorton heirs for $10,000. On April 24, 1924, the DAR purchased the property from Mrs. Blow for $6,000.
The Custom House was in a very dilapidated condition and in 1929, Mrs. Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans of Hot Springs, Virginia, became a member of the chapter and personally financed a renovation project.
Architect Duncan Lee of Richmond and Contractor E.C. Wilkinson, hired to oversee the project, and. work on the Custom House began June 1, 1929. The dedication ceremony was held on November 15, 1930. The renovation included
replicas of the original dependencies, a walled garden, and structure restoration. The Custom House has been
open to the public on Sundays and holidays since 1930.
In 1972, the U.S. Customs Service designated the Custom House at Yorktown as one of twelve Historic Custom Houses in the United States.
In 1999, the Custom House was listed in the Virginia Landmark Register, and is included in the National Register of Historic Places.