Castle Garden, New York City
Ellis Island was not the first immigrant processing center in the port of New York City. From 1855-1890 the first stop for immigrants arriving in New York was Castle Garden.
The following article from the New York Times reported the 150th anniversary of Castle Garden and the opening of a website for historians and genealogists. The website lists immigrants through the port of New York who were processed between 1820 (when the port began organized record-keeping) and 1892 (when Ellis Island opened).
Ellis Island may claim more of the ancestral spotlight, but Castle Garden was no slouch. More than one in six native-born Americans are descendants of the eight million immigrants who entered the United States through Castle Garden in Lower Manhattan beginning 150 years ago next Monday.
Museum of the City of New York
A lithograph showing Castle Garden around 1852.
Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times
On Sunday, the Battery Conservancy will celebrate the anniversary with a free concert from 4:30 to 10 p.m. at Castle Clinton, the former fort, concert hall and immigration station that is run by the National Park Service and is part of the National Parks of New York Harbor.
On Monday, Warrie Price, the founder and president of the conservancy, a nonprofit group formed to rebuild the 23-acre park, will also begin a free Web site for scholarly and genealogical research, CastleGarden.org, which includes a database of more than 10 million of the 12 million immigrants who arrived at the Port of New York from 1820 to 1892.
The Web site, an electronic archive and a research center constitute the Battery Conservancy's Center for Castle Garden Immigration.
Ms. Price will also officially inaugurate the Bosque fountain, the capstone of an $8.5 million renovation financed by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. A restored statue honoring immigrants and donated by the Rudin real estate family will be rededicated.
Before the War of 1812, a circular brownstone fort called the Southwest Battery was built on the rocks off Manhattan Island. In 1817, it was renamed Castle Clinton in honor of DeWitt Clinton, who was the mayor and then the governor. The fort was abandoned by the Army four years later without a shot ever fired at an enemy.
The fort, where the nation bade farewell to the Marquis de Lafayette, later welcomed Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale," after the addition of a roof allowed it to be expanded into an opera house and theater.
Meanwhile, in 1820, Congress began requiring records to be kept of passenger manifests, ostensibly to monitor whether ship owners were overloading their vessels. But the arrival process remained chaotic. Immigrants were besieged at the docks by agents - many of them unscrupulous - representing or claiming to represent boardinghouses, employers, railroads and other entrepreneurs who had designs on the newcomers' savings.
So in 1855, the state transformed the site from a concert hall to an immigration station.
Researchers said they were unable to verify the name of the first passenger processed, but John Celardo, an archivist with the National Archives and Records Administration in New York, said the first one listed on the manifest for the largest of the first five ships that ferried their passengers to Castle Garden from the British Queen, which sailed from Bristol, was a 30-year-old laborer from England named Richard Richards. Castle Garden was connected to the mainland by landfill and surrounded by a 13-foot-high fence to keep the unscrupulous agents out. Newcomers could register, be examined, eat, bathe and arrange for lodging and for transportation for themselves and their baggage before leaving to settle in the city or to travel to other destinations.
"Now, if the emigrant desires to stop in the city," The New York Times reported a few days after Castle Garden was reincarnated in 1855, "he may leave his luggage, to be called for when wanted, and issuing out at the narrow front gate, saunter up Broadway, and squat, or rent, or buy and build as suits his own sweet will - he is already a prospective American citizen and has the freedom of the city or the land." Most, the paper noted, "are wise enough to push on where they will be welcomed - to the West."
Between 1855 and 1890, about eight million immigrants, mostly Germans, Irish, English, Scots, Swedes, Danes, Russians and Italians, passed through Castle Garden. Immigration was virtually unrestricted until 1875, when Congress barred convicts and prostitutes. An 1882 law excluded anyone convicted of a political offense, lunatics, idiots and persons likely to become public charges and imposed a 50-cent tax on every immigrant who arrived by boat.
In 1890, 450,394 passengers were recorded as passing though Castle Garden. Of those, 364,086 were immigrants. According to the records, 155 had died en route.
In 1896, the castle was transformed into the New York Aquarium. It was largely demolished in the early 1940's for an approach to a Battery-to-Brooklyn bridge that was never built. Preservationists persuaded Congress to declare the original fort walls a national monument.
Original records of the arrivals, which are also available on microfilm at the National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region, in Manhattan, were lent by the archives to create what Ms. Price of the Battery Conservancy described as the first noncommercial digitized database of immigrants that covers almost all the 19th century. The archive was compiled by Ira Glazier, an ethnic historian.
According to an analysis of census calculations by Joseph P. Ferrie, professor of economic history at Northwestern University, about 30 percent of native-born Americans are descended from immigrants who arrived between 1820 through 1892 through the Port of New York. About 18 percent are related to immigrants who came through Castle Garden and 9 percent to arrivals at Ellis Island during its peak, from 1892 to 1924.
Scholars and genealogy buffs will now be able to mine the immigration records since 1820 as deeply as they have the trove of arrivals at Ellis Island (at ellisisland.org) through 1924. They know, for instance the first at Ellis Island was 15-year-old Annie Moore, an Irish immigrant from County Cork, whose family moved to 32 Monroe Street in Lower Manhattan and then to Texas, where she was killed by a trolley in 1923. (Her great-grandson, Edward A. Wood, is a plumbing contractor in New Jersey.)
The last person processed at Ellis Island was Arne Petterssen, a Norwegian seaman who was sent home 50 years ago for overstaying his work permit.