New York City Guide

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Ellis Island

A very popular tourist attraction, Ellis Island is reached via Circle Line ferries, which leave from Battery Park in Manhattan and Liberty State Park in New Jersey, and operate 7 days a week. Ellis Island is a small island in Upper New York Bay, although in New Jersey waters, it is under the political jurisdiction of New York. It was a major immigration station for the United States from 1892 to 1943 and an immigrant detention station until 1954. Since 1965, it has been part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

In the 1600's Ellis Island was called Gull Island and later became known as Oyster Island, then for a short while it was given the name of Gibbet Island after a pirate was hanged there in 1765. Finally in 1785 the island was acquired by Samuel Ellis, since then it has always been known as Ellis Island. Later the island was bought by the state of New York, then in 1808, sold to the federal government. From 1812 to 1814, the United States Army erected Fort Gibson on the island, which was eventually dismantled in 1861. In 1876, the United States Navy used Ellis Island as a munitions depot. That same year, the House Committee of Immigration chose Ellis Island as the site for a new immigrant screening station.

Ellis Island 2Visitors to Ellis Island enter the Main Buildings baggage room in the same way that the original immigrants did, they then climb the stairs to the Registry Room. At Ellis, immigrants were examined and either admitted or deported. At the height of its activity, the Ellis Island station could process 1 million people a year. Ellis Island was also known as "The Isle of Tears" or "Heartbreak Island" as many immigrants were sent back to their own countries and so did not become citizens of the United States of America.

Ellis Island 3There are a number of buildings on Ellis Island, a baggage and dormitory building, powerhouse, hospitals, laundry and kitchen, immigrant building and more, but only the main building and great hall are open to visitors. The main building now houses the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which offers visitors a chance to see what coming to America meant, through film archives, photos, recordings and the aura of the Great Hall. Don't miss the Immigrant Wall of Honour, a circular monument containing 200,000 names commemorated by their ancestors. Over 100 million Americans, approximately 40%, can trace their heritage to an ancestor who came through Ellis Island in search of freedom of, speech, religion, and economic opportunity.

Ellis Island 1