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Ellis Island: The Door to America

Have you ever heard of Oyster Island? How about Gull or Gibbet Island? What if I told you that all these islands are the same and have been the portal to America for twelve million immigrants, would you know then? These are all names previously given to what we now know as Ellis Island.

Ellis Island didn’t receive its current name until the 1770’s when it was bought by Samuel Ellis. Before then it had been named by the Mohegan Indians, the Dutch and named after the instrument used in the hanging of Anderson the Pirate (which took place on the island).

Even after Ellis purchased the island it didn’t immediately become an immigration depot. After a few generations the Ellis family sold the island to the state of New York. New York in turn sold it to the federal government which decided it would be the location for Fort Gibson. In 1876 they began to use the land for a Navy munitions depot which was removed in 1890 because of the concern it caused New Jersey residence.

In that same year the House Committee of Immigration decided that Ellis Island should house the new immigration depot. It would replace Manhattans Castle Garden which had served thus for many years. To accommodate for the new building that was to be erected the government added three more acres on to the island by means of landfill. And within the next two years they added fourteen more acres.

Ellis Island was finally opened January 1st 1892. The first immigrant to step through its doors was a fifteen year old girl named Annie Moore. Annie was from County Cork Ireland and was traveling with her two younger brothers to meet their parents who had moved to America two years earlier. She was welcomed by several government officials and given a gold coin. She is quoted as saying “I will never part with it but keep it as a pleasant memento of the occasion”. Her story has since become a famous tale of Ellis Island.

Several immigrants traveled through the facility after Annie but the original building wasn’t without its problems. Many workers pointed out that the ceiling would leak and it also became apparent that there was not enough room to house all the immigrants. More than once architects were sent to the building to check its structural integrity but both times the government received different answers. The first group of architects sent out said that the building would not last more than five to ten years. They found part of the building set on a foundation of stacked wood. Not only was the roof leaky but it could even give way if there was heavy snow. The next group of architects found there to be nothing wrong with the building. The government eventually decided to add another dormitory to the building to improve the cramped living conditions.

Before the new dormitory could be added most of the building burned down in a kitchen fire, forcing the government to rebuild (June 15th 1897). There was a competition held to choose who would be the architect to over see the project. A firm called Boring and Tilton won the contest and built the building that sits on the island to this day. The island couldn’t process immigrants during the construction so it was temporarily closed down.

The new building opened December 7th 1900 and it was immediately noticed that the structure was better suited to handle the mass amounts of people. It was reported that one day 6,500 immigrants were processed in nine hours. The structure was highly effective because it was modeled after a train station. This new configuration allowed for many people and their luggage to pass through efficiently.

Ellis Island operated for many years after its reconstruction. It was eventually closed in 1954 because the restrictions put on immigration greatly slowed immigrant traffic. All immigrant traffic was once again to go through Manhattan. In 1965 the Ellis Island immigration depot became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. It is now a museum that show cases the stories of the immigrants that passed through its doors. There is a bronze statue of Annie Moore in the museum to honor her and others like her who came to this country looking for a better future. These immigrants helped build America; in fact around 40% of today’s population is descended of those who passed through Ellis Island.

About the Author:

Heather Edden is Client Account Specialist at 10x marketing. To find your ancestors who traveled though Ellis Island visit Price and Associates.

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