PHOTO: National Park Service, Statue of Liberty national Monument and Ellis Island
The Statue of Liberty tells ocean-weary immigrants that they have arrived in America.

Name: Ellis Island
Directions:  Take the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island ferry from either Battery Park or Liberty State Park in New Jersey.
Size: .04 sq. mi. (.11 sq. km.)
Borough: Manhattan
Origin of Current Name: Named after 18th century owner Samuel Ellis, who sold the island to the federal government.
Previous names:  Kioshk (to 1628), Oyster (1628-1664), Gull (1664-1765), Gibbet (1765-c1770), Ellis (c1770-present)
Current use: National monument

Name: Liberty Island
Population: One large, green woman
Directions:  Same as Ellis
Size: .09 sq. mi. (.23 sq. km.)
Borough: Manhattan
Origin of Current Name: Named after the Statue of Liberty
Previous names:  Minnissais, Great Oyster, Bedloo's, Kennedy's, Corporation, Bedlow's, Bedloe's
Current use: National monument

Welcoming Millions to New York
By Noel Pangilinan

llis and Liberty islands have long been associated with the history of immigration to the United States. For the more than 12 million immigrants who came between 1892 and 1954, these two islands in Upper New York Bay, southwest of lower Manhattan, were forever etched in their collective memory as their entry points to America.

Ellis Island, which housed an immigration screening center, was the gatekeeper, where all the would-be immigrants disembarked, showing their documents and completed medical evaluations before they were allowed to enter the country. Liberty Island, which is home to the Statue of Liberty, welcomed and inspired millions of ocean-weary travelers. It also signaled the end of their long and tortuous journey to the "land of the free."

But these two islands have a colorful history that dates back much further than their days as sentries of immigration. <Click here to see the timeline of Ellis and Liberty history>


n the 1600s, Ellis Island was a sand bar near the mouth of the Hudson River. Barely three acres in size, the island could hardly be seen during high tide. The Mohegan Indians who lived on shores nearby called it Kioshk, or Gull Island. Dutch settlers renamed it Oyster Island, after discovering its rich oyster beds in 1628. When the British took over from the Dutch in 1664, they called it by its old name, Gull Island. In 1765, following the hanging of pirates and convicts, the island was renamed Gibbet Island, after the instrument used to hang them.

The island was eventually sold to Samuel Ellis, who developed it into a picnic spot in the late 1700s. The U.S. War Department bought the island for $10,000 in 1808 to provide for the city's defense. During the Civil War, Fort Gibson housed prisoners there, but also weapons and ammunition arsenal for the Union Army.

In 1892, Ellis Island was selected to be the new immigration center, replacing Castle Garden (now Castle Clinton) in Battery Park, which had become too small to screen the growing numbers of immigrants. The Ellis Island immigration station opened on Jan. 1, 1892.

PHOTOS: National Park Service, Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island(left), Noel Pangilinan
The Main Arrival Hall of the immigration center was closed in 1954. Nowadays, it is part of a museum.

The decision to house the immigration center on Ellis Island coincided with a conscious effort to enlarge the island. By 1890, landfill from incoming ships' ballast and the earth that came from digging the city's subway tunnels had doubled the island's size to six acres. Today, Ellis Island measures 27 acres.

Ellis Island was closed in November 1954 after tougher immigration laws significantly reduced the number of immigrants coming through its gates.

The island was placed under the National Park Service in 1965 as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. It was reopened to the public in 1976.

fter a six-year-long restoration project that cost $156 million, the Main Arrivals Building was reopened to the public in 1990. It is now a museum that chronicles the history of the Ellis Island Immigration Station. In May 1998, New York lost possession of much of Ellis Island. After a 160-year old dispute with New Jersey over territorial rights over Ellis Island, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in New Jersey v. New York that nearly 90 percent of the present-day island, or 24 acres of landfill, belongs to New Jersey. The court allowed New York to keep the original 3-acre island.

The dispute began in 1834, when the U.S. Congress gave New York the rights to Ellis Island that was then only three acres wide, and New Jersey the tidewater control of the underwater portions. The landfill that expanded the island moved it west of the agreed boundary line, which New Jersey claimed to be right within its territory.


he Mohegans called it Minnissais, which means Lesser Island. At various times, the island has been known as Great Oyster, Love Island, Bedloo's Island, Kennedy's Island, Corporation Island, Bedlow's Island and most recently Bedloe's Island. It was renamed Liberty Island in 1956.

PHOTO: National Park Service, Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island

Doctors check immigrants' eyes for trachoma.

Under the Dutch, the island became the property of merchant Isaack Bedloo. His daughter sold the island to Adolphe Philipse and Henry Lane in 1732 for five shillings. About the same time, the island became a smallpox quarantine station for New York.

In 1746, Archibald Kennedy bought the island for £100. New York State ordered him to build a beacon on the island to warn New Jersey, Connecticut and New York of any approaching danger. In 1756, the island was used again as a temporary quarantine spot for smallpox. Kennedy sold the island for £1,000 to the City of New York, which used as a pest house.

Under the British, the island was used as a refuge for loyalists during the American Revolution. In 1796, it was turned over to the New York State as a hospital site, and in 1800, it was ceded to the federal government.

Right after the United States gained independence, Bedloe's Island, together with Ellis Island and Governors Island, was chosen as a defense fortification to protect the New York Harbor.

n 1877, the island was chosen as the site for the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the United States to honor the two nations' alliance during the American Revolution. Liberty Enlightening the World, the statue's official name, was designed by the French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi. Gustave Eiffel, who later built Paris' famous Eiffel Tower, devised its iron skeleton.

The 151-foot-high, 225-ton statue arrived in New York Harbor on June 17, 1886, packed in 214 wooden crates. It was mounted on a pedestal built with funds raised by New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer.

The Statue of Liberty was dedicated and finally unveiled to the American people on Oct. 28, 1886, by President Glover Cleveland. <Click here to take a video tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island>

In 1903, the sonnet "The New Colossus" by poet Emma Lazarus was inscribed in bronze at the base of the 15-story-tall statue. Part of it read:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me,
I lit my lamp beside the golden door."

The Statue of Liberty was declared a national monument in 1924.

s a result of heightened security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, only the grounds on Liberty Island are open to the public. The statue, the pedestal museum exhibit and the crown are closed indefinitely.

Before the security precautions, visitors could take an elevator or climb 192 steps to an observation deck at the top of the pedestal. There is also a museum located inside the pedestal that tells the history of the monument and features the original torch and flame. For a breathtaking view of New York Harbor and New York City, one could climb an additional 354 steps all the way up to the statue's crown.

Sources: The National Park Service; B. Moreno, The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia (2000); The Expanded Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (2003); The Reader's Companion to American History, Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors; The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (SOLEIF); Think

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