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the 1700s New Yorkers used the island for various purposes, including oyster catching, oyster feasts, and state executions.3 Its present name comes from the last private owner, Samuel Ellis, who owned the island from 1778-1794 and set up a successful tavern and shad- and herring fishing business on the three acres exposed above the water.4 The U.S. government subsequently acquired the property and built earthen fortifications to protect New York from the threat of war with France in 1798; a small fort with a twenty-gun battery, Fort Gibson, was finished just in time for the War of 1812 and may have deterred the British from attacking New York. By the 1840s, the Army and Navy shared use of the fort and the circa 1835 gunpowder magazine and did so throughout the Civil War. Not until 1890 did New Jersey congressmen create legislation to remove the magazine, clearing the way for a project to dredge a channel to provide access to the island and build cribworks containing fill to enlarge it. This prepared Ellis Island for construction of the first immigration station, which opened in 1892.5

The first station operated until 1897, when it burned to the ground, and the present main building was completed in 1900. During the first decade of the 20th century, most of the larger structures on Ellis Island were built, including the hospital complex, contagious disease ward, and psychiatric hospital run by the Marine Hospital Service (later the Public Health Service).6 From 1900 to 1914, Ellis Island operated at full capacity processing thousands of immigrants daily; 11,747 travellers entered the record books on one day in April 1907, the most ever processed. This is the classic phase in the island's history, and our image of the immigrants' experience comes from this time period. For those who passed through it, Ellis Island held two paradoxical meanings. Some immigrants believed "It was the magic portal of transformation from Europe to America,"7 was also the place where people could finally rest after a long


3. Thomas M. Pitkin, Keepers of the Gate: A History of Ellis Island (New York: New York University Press, 1975).
4. John H. Pousson, Eastern Team, Denver Service Center, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, An Overview and Assessment of Archaeological Resources on Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty Monument, New York
(Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1986).
5. Ibid.
6. Harlan D. Unrau, Denver Service Center, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior,
Historic Structure Report, Ellis Island, Historical Data, Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York/New Jersey (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1981); US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Ellis Island: America's Immigration Cornerstone (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1993).
7. David M. Brownstone, et al, Island of Hope, Island of Tears (New York: Rawson, Wade Publishers, 1979).
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