Castle Garden and Ellis Island 

Many of our family members came to the USA through New York, where they were processed at either Castle Garden or Ellis Island.  This essay was downloaded from an Internet source.

Where did immigrants arrive in NY?
Before August 1855 - wharfs of Manhattan

August 1, 1855- April 18, 1890 : Castle Garden

April 19, 1890-Dec. 31, 1891: Barge Office

January 1, 1892- June 13, 1897: Ellis Island

June 14, 1897 - Dec 16, 1900: Barge Office

December 17, 1900-1924: Ellis Island

NY State founded the United States' first center for processing arriving immigrants in 1855. It was established on an island off the southwest tip of Manhattan - Castle Garden. It was hoped that a receiving station off the mainland would serve two purposes : to prevent people with contagious diseases from entering the country and help arriving immigrants from the hazards of fraud, robbery and deceit when they first arrived.

Before the creation of Castle Garden in 1855 passengers were allowed to disembark directly from the ship onto the wharfs of Manhattan.  Then a small island was earmarked for processing immigrants, called Castle Garden.  It housed a fort facing a similar fort on Governor's Island which were designed to prevent unfriendly ship traffic from moving up the East River.

Castle Garden was New York's immigrant landing center from 1855 to 1890. From 1896 to 1941 it was New York City's Aquarium. Today Castle Garden is called Castle Clinton National Monument. It serves as a visitor information center for New York's National Parks and Monuments. You can also purchase tickets there for ferry trips to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

On  April 18, 1890 the Secretary of the Treasury terminated the contract with the NY State Commissioners of Emigration and assumed control of immigration of the harbor. NY officials were very upset , and refused to allow the government to use Castle Garden for immigration. Therefore, on April 19, 1890, the US government established a temporary processing center for immigrants at the Old Barge Office at the southeast foot of Manhattan near the US Customs House. A small , swampy piece of federally owned property was given to the Treasury Dept. to build the first federal immigrant receiving station. It was called Ellis Island.

Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892. It was constructed entirely of wood, was three stories high and  designed to handle up to 10,000 immigrants a day. In 1891, the federal government assumed jurisdiction over all ports, not just NY, so processing centers were established at other ports.

Just before midnight on June 14, 1897 a fire broke out in the all wooden building on Ellis Island and it burned to the ground. No ship records were destroyed since they were kept elsewhere, but all other administrative records for 1855-1890 were lost. The old Barge Office was again used as a processing center for 3 1/2 years while the new Ellis Island building was built.

On December 17, 1900 the new steel, brick and stone building on Ellis Island opened. However, it was too small from the start and would have to be expanded many times.

So, while many of us say our ancestors arrived at Ellis Island - this timeline should help you see where they _really_ arrived!

All ship  manifests for Castle Garden and Ellis Island arrivals (1820-1947) are available through any FHC or NARA branch. Please see the section on Passenger Ships into NY for information on searching them.

Ellis Island Timeline

1886 - Statue of liberty dedicated

1890 - Federal government establishes Bureau of Immigration and selects Ellis Island as first federal immigration facility; using ballast from incoming ships as landfill, work begins to double the island's size

1892 - First immigrants pass through Ellis Island, led by Annie Moore age 15 from Ireland

1897- Fire destroys original wood buildings

1900- New Beaux Arts-style immigration center opens at a cost of more than $1 million

1901- In the first full year with the new facility, Ellis Island handles 389,000 immigrants

1907- More than 1 million immigrants pass through Ellis Island, including a record 11,747 in one day.

1917- Congress requires that all immigrants over 16 be literate.

1921- First federal immigration quotas enacted.

1924- National Origins Law tightens quotas and moves immigration processing abroad, under the direction of U.S. consulates

1943- Ellis Island is used as a detention center for enemy aliens.

1954- Ellis Island is closed and put up for sale as surplus federal property.

1965- The National Park Service take over Ellis Island

1974- Federal government allocates $1 million for Bicentennial cleanup of Ellis Island

1983- Restoration of the main building begins

1990- Ellis Island Immigration Museum opens after nearly $170 million restoration.


most recent revision:  June 20, 2002
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