Ellis Island has a special place in the history of the United States. Standing within the states of New Jersey and New York, this island was once the busiest immigrant processing and inspection station.
While it has only recently gained momentum as a tourist spot, it wasn’t always the most swoon-worthy location. Here’s everything you need to know about an Island that once served as a detention center for war prisoners and a port that was once used as the main entryway to America.
5 Things You Did Not Know About Ellis Island’s History
Three Unaccompanied Minors Were the First Immigrants to Set Foot on Ellis Island
It was in the year 1892 when a ship from Europe arrived on the island with around 124 passengers in it. Annie Moore and her two younger brothers from Ireland were the first immigrants to set foot on the island.
To mark the occasion, a commissioner of the island also gifted her a $10 gold piece. Today, the statues of these three siblings stand on display at the Immigration Museum on the island.
Immigrants Underwent Numerous Mental and Physical Exams
As per the law of the time, immigrants were checked for signs of mental or physical deficiencies before being given citizenship. If there were any signs of feeblemindedness, poor physique, or disease, the immigrants in question were denied entrance to the country. Some arrivals were also sent back if they showed signs of questionable moral character or if they had a criminal record.
The Island Served As a Detention Center During the Two World Wars
When wars broke out between Germany and the United States, some folks from the latter became suspicious of the German population living within its borders.
Labeled as “alien enemies,” the people were subjected to torture and placed under extremely harsh conditions. It was Ellis Island that served as a detention center for them. Later on, the same facility was also used to house people who sympathized with the Nazis.
Ellis Island Wasn’t Publicly Accessible Until 1976
Most attempts to sell the island went in vain. However, before it turned out the way it did, Ellis Island was subjected to a number of construction ideas. Some proposed turning it into a resort marina, while others suggested turning it into a drug rehabilitation center. None of the proposed schemes saw the end of the day.
Even though it was opened to the public in 1976, most renovation plans did not come together for the next four years. Thanks to the fundraising project by an automotive pioneer, Lee Lacocca, the Statue of Liberty’s construction was finally financed. Today, the area receives over 3 million visitors every year.
Immigrants Were Not Forced to Change Their Names
While claims exist that most immigrants had their names shortened or anglicized, there is no evidence to support them. No policy was in place that subjected the immigrants to such a practice. The people who changed their names did so on their own as they wished to gel into the culture.
Geography of Ellis Island
The island is situated north of Liberty Island and east of Liberty State Park in Upper New York Bay. A huge chunk of the area is in New Jersey, but a small section also stands in New York City.
With over 27 acres of land, the present-day island is administered and owned by the United States Federal Government.
Ellis Island Today
Today, the island is operated and maintained by the National Park Service. Several medical and fire protection services are also provided by the Fire Department of Jersey City.
The main building of the island is home to the Wall of Honor right outside it. It’s the same wall that has over 700,000 names inscribed on it. Most of them were Native Americans, slaves, and immigrants who had to be sent back.
The southern end of the island was once home to an immigrant hospital. However, today, it remains abandoned and unrenovated mainly because of the eruption of disagreements over its proposed use.
The southern side has also witnessed a number of movements to preserve whatever remained in it. The 28 buildings on this end of the island were to be rehabilitated but still stand untouched.
The island is only accessible to the public by ferry and is now a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. It was also briefly a part of UNESCO’s list of tentative World Heritage Sites in the year 2017.
How to Get to Ellis Island from New York?
The best way to get to Ellis Island from New York is by taking East Side Drive, south of Battery Park, or West Side Street, south of Battery Park Place. There is no designated parking available.
However, several privately operated parking lots along South and West Street can be used after paying a fee. From there, visitors can get on a ferry that takes them directly to Ellis Island. The best part about visiting this site is that most ferry ticket counters are handicapped accessible, making the island popular among people of all ages.
Here are some more important things to note. The ferry leaves for the island at designated hours of the day. The first one leaves at 9:30 am, while the last leaves at 3:00 pm. The closing ferry leaves the island for the mainland at 5 pm. It’s best to arrive early because visitors on the last ferry aren’t able to visit more than one island.
Ellis Island isn’t only famous for its picturesque sites and the Statue of Liberty. It is also known for its controversial history, where it once served as a detention center for immigrants and slaves. While many more events are associated with the site, there is little to no evidence to support their reality. Nonetheless, the island receives millions of visitors throughout the year and is one of the most sought-after spots for locals and tourists alike.