Ellis Island

Ellis Island: Visitage Our Heritage

Ellis Island, at the mouth of the Hudson River in New York Harbor, was the first place over 12 million immigrants saw of the United States. These hopeful travelers, mostly from Europe, were processed at Ellis Island before being allowed to settle in the country. Today, decendents of Ellis Island immigrants account for approximately half of the United State population. The 27.5-acre island is now a museum and park, run by the National Park Service.

History

Ellis Island, opened on January 1, 1892, was the processing point for immigrants sailing to the United States from points east, mostly Europe. The facility processed only third class (steerage) passengers. First and Second-class passengers were processed on the ship and disembarked at the passenger terminals along the Hudson River. Upon arrival, immigrants were given a medical exam and their papers were examined by a government official. Although Ellis Island has been called the “Island of Tears” in reference to those immigrants sent back to their home countries, in truth, only about two percent of those passing through the facilities were denied admittance to the US. Most of those sent back were refused for medical reasons. The majority of passengers were processed and ferried to New York or New Jersey within several hours.

After 1924, Ellis Island was used only for detainees. Regular passengers were handled through other, more modern and convenient facilities. During World War II, the island was used as a military prison camp, and the place was finally retired in 1954. In 1966, it was designated as a National Historic Place and its maintenance was taken over by the US Park Service. The facility by this time, however, was in a state of disrepair, but through largely private contributions, the site was restored and opened in 1990 as a museum and historic site.

The Museum


The main building at Ellis Island, with its easily recognizable, ornate Rococo towers, houses the Ellis Island Museum. Exhibits there include artifacts, photographs, videos, prints, and interactive displays that tell the story of Ellis Island and the people who, however briefly, stayed here. The museum also houses the American Immigrant Wall of Honor, a unique display that overlooks the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline and contains the names of 600,000 brave souls who risked everything for a new life in America. Ancestors of these immigrants purchased the names for $100 as a fund raiser during the restoration of the site. The Ellis Island Living Theater, also at the museum, presents "Embracing Freedom", a live stage show, several times each day.

Tracing Your Root at Ellis Island

The research library at Ellis Island houses a huge collection of documents relating to immigration, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. Included in these documents are over 2000 taped and transcribed oral histories from actual Ellis Island immigrants and Ellis Island staff members. Also on Ellis Island is the American Family Immigration History Center, which provides easy access to ship’s manifests from this period. Keep in mind, only third class passengers were processed at Ellis Island.

Visiting Ellis Island

Ellis Island is open daily from 9:30 am until 5:15 pm, except for Christmas Day. The park is reached by ferry (fee for crossing) from Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan or from Liberty Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. . There is no additional charge for visiting Ellis Island.

Visitors on Ellis Island can take a self-guided tour, enjoy one of the 45-minute ranger-guided tours, or watch a documentary about the history of the Island. Food concessions on Ellis Island sell snacks, sandwiches, and soft drinks, and the large green lawns make an ideal place for a picnic.

Location: Ellis Island
Phone: 212-561-4588
E-mail:historycenter@ellisisland.org

Click here to visit Ellis Island official website.