Today in History - Ellis Island Closes as Immigration Station

Today in History - Ellis Island Closes as Immigration Station

by M.C. Millman

After processing twelve million immigrants since its opening in 1892, on November 12, 1954, Ellis Island in upper New York closed its doors forever as an immigration station. 

Located on an island at the mouth of the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, Ellis Island served as an immigration station for millions of immigrants who arrived on our shores after traveling by ship.

The first federal immigration station on Ellis Island was built for $75,000. 

To make room for the buildings required, the island's size was doubled to six acres using landfill from the New York City subway tunnels and the ballast from incoming ships. By 1906, the island expanded even more, growing to 27 acres with even more landfill. 

On January 1, 1892, the first immigrant to be admitted at Ellis Island, Annie Moore from Ireland, was greeted by officials and awarded a ten-dollar gold piece. 

After Annie, Ellis Island began to process an average of 1,900 immigrants daily at its peak. The process for new arrivals was to first tag them with information provided from their ship's registry. They were then directed to wait in long lines where each immigrant received a medical exam and a legal review before being allowed to enter the United States. Some would be lucky enough to be processed in a few hours, but others were detained for days or weeks. 

In 1907, Ellis Island saw its highest number of immigrants over the course of a year. That year, one million four thousand seven hundred fifty-six arrivals passed through Ellis Island. 

On June 15, 1897, a fire broke out in the wooden main building. It destroyed all records dating back to 1840. A  new fireproof facility replaced the lost building and opened three years later. 

In 1911, a purportedly kosher kitchen was built to accommodate the many Jewish immigrants who passed through Ellis Island so that they, too, could have the free food provided by the United States government.

By 1921, due to new laws, fewer immigrants were allowed into the United States, and so they were processed on their ships before being allowed to disembark. Ellis Island was a temporary detainment center instead of an immigrant processing center.

November 12, 1954, all of Ellis Island's thirty-three buildings were officially closed as they were no longer needed. Then, in 1976, the island opened to provide hour-long guided tours of the Main Arrivals Building. More than 50,000 people eagerly visited the island in the first year.

After a $156 million dollar restoration of Ellis Island's Main Arrivals Building, more than 30 million visitors have toured the restored facility. The project was finished in 1990 and includes the Main Building, which houses the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. It was restored to look the way the building appeared during the island's heyday. Today, visitors can tour the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration and trace their ancestors through millions of immigrant arrival records made available to the public in 2001.

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