Ellis Island History & Tours

by Naomi Young

Ellis Island is situated at the upper bay near the New Jersey Coast. This island symbolizes one of the most talked about periods in America’s history. Between 1892 and 1954, over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island as a screening area, with the hope of gaining entry onto the US mainland. Millions of Americans can today trace their lineage through one or more ancestors who passed through Ellis Island.

But Ellis Island’s history goes back even further. The native Indian tribes referred to Ellis Island as Gull Island. It was also known as Oyster Island due to the masses of oysters found on the island. When Samuel Ellis purchased the island in the 1770s it was renamed Ellis Island as it is still known today. The island has been a refuge for pirates, a munitions depot, a lookout post, an immigration station and most lately one of New York’s main tourist attractions.

Ellis Island’s most important period in history, however, was its role in the American War of Independence. The American high command realized that British Naval ships could sail towards New York completely uncontested and Ellis Island was therefore fortified with guns as a deterrent. This made a huge impact on the amount of troops the British forces could drop in one of America’s most important cities at the time.

The darkest period in Ellis Island’s history occurred in 1897 when a fire on the island destroyed the immigration office, along with records dating back to 1855. This took a whole chapter of America’s history along with it.

Today, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Just six years ago, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, in partnership with the National Park Service, opened the American Family Immigration History Center?. This is open to all visitors and is equipped with the latest computer and multimedia tools. It also functions as a research center for those wishing to research their family history.

The tours on offer are led by history buffs with a vast knowledge of America’s immigration past. There are also self-guided exhibits available for those who do not wish to be tied to structured tours. This includes artefacts, photos, videos and a history of the island.

The main attractions include the American Family Immigration Center, Ellis Island Living Theater and American Immigrant Wall of Honour.

A trip to New York is not complete without a visit to Ellis Island.

Please let us know your stories about Ellis Island.

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