Ellis Island


 Within the New York/New Jersey harbor lies a small island that holds many stories. Stories of the 12 million immigrants that have passed through its gates. This island is now known as Ellis Island. Today it is believed that over 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to the millions once processed there. Although the name Ellis Island was given to the land in 1770, its presence had long before been recognized in history.   Prior to the name Ellis Island, the small, low in altitude piece of land was once called "Kioshk" or "Gull Island", by local indian tribes and "Oyster Island" during the Dutch and English colonial period. Each of the names were representations of the island and its occupants at the time. Not until 1794 had the island played much of a role in American history. When the British occupied New York City during the Revolutionary War, the location and significance of the island was finally recognized. After the federal government took ownership to the land Fort Gibson was established on the island and therefore became a critical part of the United States defense system. After realizing the significance of the land the Federal Government purchased it from the New York state in 1808. 


 Prior to the opening of Ellis Island as an immigrant station in 1892, immigrants arrived at Castle Garden. During the middle of 1897 the island caught fire destroying the newly designated immigrant station and everything in it, including the record of those who previously entered. December 17, 1900 the new Ellis Island was reopened.

The large fireproof immigrant station processed 2,251 people on its first day reopened. The largest number of immigrants processed in a single day was April 17, 1907 when 11,747 people entered the gates of Ellis Island. 1907, was the peak year of those processed, reaching an astounding 1.25 million people in that year. Ellis Island was seen as the beginning of a new life to many, yet to a small percentage it claimed the names, "Island of Tears" and "Heartbreak Island".

Each of the names emerged from the small percentage of people turned away from the United States.   The ships which carried the immigrants were very crowed and separated by class with the poorest immigrants at the lower levels of the ship.

Once the shipped reached the New York harbor second and third class passengers were each inspected first for physical illnesses and second for mental illness. If one was considered to be detrimental to American society, they were sent back to their country on the vessel in which they arrived, free of charge. 3,000 people died while being held at Ellis Island, thus claiming its name.

After 12 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island, it closed its gates in 1954. 1976-1984, Ellis Island was opened to the public but later underwent renovation and reopened in 1990. The renovation project cost was $160 million, the largest in American history. Today, Ellis Island remains open as a part of the Statue of Liberty monument and receives about 2 million visitors each year.  

Novotny,Ann. Strangers at the Door. Riverside, CT: The Chatam Press, 1971.
Handlin,Oscar. A Pictorial History of Immigration. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc, 1972.