drawing by Andrew
Early History of Ellis Island
Ellis Island first opened in 1892 and was closed in 1954. Between those two dates there is a lot of interesting information put together by our team.
Between 1892 and 1954 over 12 million people entered the United States through Ellis Island. Ellis Island was and still is located in the upper part of New York Bay, off the coast of New Jersey, and right next to the Statue of Liberty. From the beginning of Ellis Island until now, the island has enlarged from 3.3 acres to 28 acres, mostly from excess earth from the construction of the New York City subway system.
Before Ellis Island was a federal immigration station, it was called numerous names:
1. Before settlers came to America, local Indian tribes called Ellis Island "Kioshk" or Gull Island.
2. Due to Ellis Island's rich oyster beds, it was known as Oyster Island by the Dutch and English during the colonial period.
3. Before being owned by Samuel Ellis, in the 1770's, Ellis Island had been called Kioshk, Oyster, Dyre, Bucking, and Anderson Island. But the ones above are the main ones.
of Fort Gibson
Photo of plan of Ellis Island 1850
During this period, Ellis Island was used by the military a lot. British fleets were sailing freely into the New York City Harbor. To prevent the British from doing this, America made coastal fortifications, just prior to the war of 1812.
The federal government purchased Ellis Island from New York State in 1810. A little bit later, Ellis Island was approved for fortification. On it was built a wall for three tiers of circular guns. This made Ellis Island a part of the New York Harbor defense system, which also included other forts like: Castle Clinton in Battery Park, Castle Williams on Governor's Island, Fort Wood on Bedloe's Island, and two forts at Verrazano Narrows. During this time, Ellis Island was called Fort Gibson in the honor of a brave officer killed during the War of 1812.
Before Ellis Island was used for an immigration station, Castle Garden (Castle Clinton) served as a immigration station from 1855-1890. Approximately eight million entered through its doors. Immigrants mostly from Northern and Western Europe, such as England, Ireland, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries were the first wave of immigrants to America.
Later on, it was apparent that Castle Clinton was too small and ill-equipped for all the immigrants.
The Great Fire of 1897
The Great Fire on Ellis Island happened five years after its opening, on the night of June 14, 1897. The fire burned down the whole immigration complex to the ground, including all the records from 1855. Nobody was hurt, and nobody knows why it happened or who started it.
The Reopening of Ellis Island
Ellis Island reopened on December 17, 1990. Just on that day Ellis Island received 2,251 immigrants.