It is quite possible that Ellis Island is part of your family history. For many years, Ellis Island was an immigration station. In the early part of the twentieth century, it served as the main gateway to our country. Twelve million foreigners had passed through its doors by the middle of the twentieth century, when it closed. Ships unloaded their passengers at the docks in New York. Then, passengers quickly transferred to boats and barges for the trip to Ellis Island in New York Harbor. It was the first place many of our forebears saw when they arrived in America.
This country is made up of immigrants, along with native American Indians. An immigrant is someone who moves from one country to another. The immigrant usually plans to make the new country home. Millions of Americans can trace their family history to one or more ancestors who first arrived in the United States through Ellis Island. Today, it is a museum. Millions of dollars were raised to fix up the neglected building. The museum is located one mile from New York City and a few hundred yards from the docks of New Jersey.
Ellis Island was originally called Gull Island by the Native Americans, after the birds that lived there. The Dutch settlers that lived there later renamed it Oyster Island, after the oyster beds surrounding the island. During the American Revolution, the island was owned by Samuel Ellis, a merchant and the owner of a tavern on the island for fishermen. In 1808, Samuel Ellis's descendants sold the island to New York. It was named Ellis Island after Samuel. Later in the year, the Federal government bought it for $10,000. Right before the War of 1812, a battery, a magazine, and a barracks were built on the island. In 1890, the state government turned the immigration control to the Federal government. The US Congress gave $75,000 to build the immigration station on Ellis island. Using artesian well and landfill, they doubled the size of Ellis Island to more than six acres. The Barge Office in Manhattan was used as a temporary station while Ellis was being constructed. In 1891, almost 406,000 immigrants were processed through the Barge Office.
In 1892, Ellis Island Immigration Station was officially opened. The very first immigrant was Annie Moore, who had come with her two younger brothers to live with their parents in New York. In 1897, a fire destroyed the station. Although no one was killed, the immigration records dating back to 1885 were completely destroyed. During the time a new, fireproof station was being built, the immigrants were processed in the Barge Office. The Main Building was constructed in 1900 and was designed to process about 5,000 immigrants per day. 1907 was the peak year for immigration, with 1,004,756 total processed immigrants from all over the world. April 17 was the peak of that year, with 11,747 immigrants in that day alone.
The first Immigration Quota Law was passed in 1921, with the quota set at about 358,000 a month. The Immigration Act of 1924 changed the quota to only 164,000. Ellis Island changed from an immigration station to a detention and deportation center for illegal aliens. The buildings were neglected and unrepaired. Ellis Island's thirty-three total buildings were closed and said to be extra Federal property. In 1965, former President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Proclamation 3656, declaring Ellis Island to be added to the Statue of Liberty National Monument. In 1990, after six years of restoration, Ellis Island Immigration Museum officially opened and has received more than 40,000,000 visitors.