The historical Ellis Island was a gateway for millions of immigrants who came to the United States of America. In the 18th century, Samuel Ellis purchased the Island and built a tavern on it. Later the U.S. War Department built fortifications on the island. In 1808, the state of New York bought the Island and conveyed it to the federal government. In 1811, a land battery was completed on Ellis Island for harbor defense.
From 1855 to 1890, Castle Garden, located in the Battery of Manhattan, served as the New York State immigration station.
In 1891, Congress passed an immigration act which created a Bureau of Immigration within the Treasury Department. A commissioner was installed at each major port. The U.S. Immigration Station on Ellis Island formally opened on January 1, 1892. Over the next 62 years, more than 12 million immigrants arrived in the United States via Ellis Island.
After a fire destroyed the immigration facility on June 15, 1897, a new, larger facility was erected and opened on December 17, 1900. It featured a three-story, brick, French Renaissance style immigration building, a brick Georgian Revival style hospital complex, and outbuildings.
In the 1930s, new facilities were constructed on Ellis Island that clearly demarcated spaces for patients, immigrants and deportees, a shift that recognized the changing dynamics of immigration in the United States during the years of the Great Depression.
In 1943, all immigration and naturalization service functions moved from Ellis Island to Columbus Circle in Manhattan. In 1965, Ellis Island was made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.
In 1976, Ellis Island opened for public tours and, in 2001, the American Family Immigration History Center opened at the Island.
Immigration Depot on Ellis Island. Vintage postcard by Manhattan Post Card Co. Photograph by Irving Underhill.
Immigrants just arrived, awaiting examination, Ellis Island, New York harbor. Vintage photograph published by Underwood & Underwood (source: Library of Congress).
A representative of the New York Bible Society distributing bibles and religious literature to the emigrants at Ellis Island. Copyright 1911 by Underwood & Underwood. Source Library of Congress.
Copyright © Geographic Guide - Antique photographs of NYC.
Ellis Island visitors (around the 1990s).