From the Pale to the Golden Land
Ellis Island: Port of Immigration

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The Grand Opening of Ellis Island, 1891
as reported by the New-York Daily Tribune



Here is an article that appeared in the Sunday edition of the "New-York Daily Tribune" on Dec. 27, 1891:




The new immigration depot at Ellis Island will be opened on New Year's Day. Orders to that effect have been issued by the Secretary of the Treasury; and while the work of transferring the business from the Barge office to the Island will be somewhat hurried, there is no doubt that it will be done in time, and on next Thursday evening will be eyewitnessed the last examination of immigrants in this city.

It cannot be said that this transfer to Ellis Island is attended by any great amount or rejoicing on the part of the immigration officials or employees; on the contrary, there is scarcely a man connected with the Department, from Commissioner Weber down, who does not secretly dislike the idea of going away from the Battery, where the business has been carried on for upward of half a century. This feeling exists despite the fact that all the facilities and arrangements of the new establishment are immeasurably superior to those now existing at the Barge Office or that were furnished by Castle Garden. No one pretends that the Barge Office was a suitable place for an immigrant landing station. It has been a common expression that the use of it for this purpose was equivalent to doing business "on a dry goods box," so inadequate was its space for the task imposed upon it. But it was New York City, and that is considered by the employees at least, as an overwhelming argument in its favor.

However, the Government has settled upon Ellis Island. It has built an immense structure there, and there immigrants must henceforth be landed and qualifications for citizenship or settlement in this country be passed upon.

The new structure, like most other Government buildings, though of gigantic proportions, cannot be termed an architectural masterpiece. An opportunity for erecting such a pile was afforded, and the hope was widely entertained that the Government would see its way to adorn Ellis Island with a building which would make it worthy of association with Bartholdi's statue on Bedlow's Island, a short distance away. The late Secretary Windom gave expression to this hope in the preliminary consideration of the matter, but it was quickly abandoned. Money for the purpose could not be obtained, at least so it was argued at the time. It was decided to put up a building which would not cost over $250,000. This necessarily meant a wooden structure, and one temporary in its character. Such a one has been constructed, but instead of costing $200,000 or $250,000, it has already involved an outlay of more than double that sum, and no one of taste can become particularly enthusiastic over it. It is simply a little more than a big business shed, but it will answer well the purpose for which it was built.

An idea of the building's immense size is suggested by the fact that over 4,000,000 feet of lumber have been used in its construction.

As has been stated, the huge building covers the greater part of the island, the area of which was something less than five acres but this was increased to about eight by driving piles around the water front, and filling in the vacant spaces with earth. The building is of no particular style of architecture. It is three stories in height, with a tower at each corner. The ground and upper floors measure, each of them, 404 by 154 feet. The first floor will be devoted to railroad and baggage transfer and the local express office as well as the private offices of Mr. Biglin the veteran expressman. On the second floor the registration and examination will be conducted. There will be ten to twelve registry clerks, so arranged as to examine as many lines of passengers. This is about twice the number of clerks now employed. It is thought that if required from 12,000 to 15,000 passengers could be examined in a single day. Over 5,000 have been examined at the Barge Office in one day, but it taxed the force employed to the utmost to do it. There is a well-established tradition that nearly 10,000 were landed at old Castle Garden [in] one day, but the work of registration was not completed until nearly midnight.

But at Ellis Island 10,000 can be disposed of easily, and as that number was the largest ever arriving in a single day, it can be said with perfect safety that whatever defects there may be in the new landing station from an aesthetic point of view, there is no question that it will be sufficiently large to handle the business easily.

A casual inspection of the establishment, particularly this part of it, will disclose several excellent features. Chief among these is a gallery which extends completely around this floor. From this the immigrants can be inspected by the public or those interested in them, without coming into actual contact with them. Detention rooms are provided also on this floor in abundance. There will be rooms for paupers, another for lunatics, another for women and children, and so on. The telegraph station, money exchange, postal station, information bureau, railroad and steamboat ticket offices are all arranged so as to give the newcomers the least possible inconvenience.

It has been frequently remarked that the poorest immigrant who arrives at this port is more carefully looked after, more zealously protected from fraud or imposition of any kind, than the wealthiest cabin passenger, foreign-born or American citizen. The latter may easily become the victim of a cabman or a baggage-sharp, but the immigrant is protected against loss of this kind and almost every other. All rates to him are low, fixed and relentlessly adhered to, with scarcely an exception.

Sleeping rooms are provided on the floor above, and while, as heretofore, it will be the constant effort of the immigration officials to send forward the immigrants as fast as possible to their places of destination, yet when some of them are compelled to stay one night, they will not be forced to sleep on benches, much less the floor.

On the side facing the harbor are situated the offices of the immigration officials. Commissioner Weber has the southeast corner, from which there is an admirable view of the Statue of Liberty and the Upper Bay. Next comes those of the Contract Labor Bureau, one large room for the general work and another private office for Supervising Inspector Milholland. The offices of Chief Clerk Thompson and his efficient assistants, Messrs. Eichler and Tompkins, are next in order, and then come the boarding officers' quarters. General O'Beirne, Assistant Commissioner, has the northeast corner, a fine set of rooms, looking toward the city. There are also rooms for the press, for visiting committees and for almost everything.

None of the officials will live on the island except the surgeon. His quarters are in a separate building, the one formerly occupied by the gunner when the island was a storehouse for explosives. Adjacent to the surgeon's quarters are the boiler and dynamo rooms. The artesian well is near here. It has been sunk to a depth of about 1,400 feet, but the water obtained so far is not pure enough for satisfactory use. It may be found necessary to resort to Croton water, in which case, pipes connecting with the city mains will be employed.

A little to the east of this shaft stands the detention pen, for the use of immigrants adjudged unfit to land. They will be kept there pending their transfer to the ship or ships for deportation. The hospital service will have a supplement in the shape of a huge bath which is being constructed on the western side of the island. This will be for the use of those whose appearance indicates the need of it, and will be employed in such cases whether desired or not. They can have, however, warm or cold water. This bathhouse contains also two rooms for steaming filthy clothing. In brief, the hygienic apparatus on the island will be made as complete as possible. It may be found necessary in furtherance of this idea to cover the entire island with a coat of asphalt, as the sail has given evidence at times of being malarial.

All the immigrants bound for interior points will be transferred directly by barges to the railroad stations, while those whose destination is in this State and the immediate neighborhood will be conveyed by the ferryboat J. H. Brinkerhoff to the ferry slip alongside the Barge Office, and will go on their journeys from that point. Ample space for the landing and subsequent transfer of immigrants is afforded by the 800 feet of pier-front at the island. The water has been dredged to a depth of about twelve feet, which is considered sufficient for the craft that will be employed.

Messrs. Sheridan & Byrne are the builders of the new depot. Roosevelt, Son & Miller have done the pier work, piling and also built the new ferry slip at the Barge Office. Major Hibbard, of the Treasury Department, is the Superintendent of Construction, but Assistant Secretary Welbleton has had the general oversight of everything. All the old employees will be retained at Elis Island and several new appointments will be made, as the force will be slightly increased.

One familiar face, however, will be missed--that of ex-Coroner John R. Nugent, who has kept the restaurant for years, but whose contract has been given to a New Jersey man, ex-Sheriff Taffie of Jersey City.

Despite all the efforts which have been made to restrict immigration, it has been unusually heavy this year. The total number of steerage and cabin passengers landed at this port since January 1, 1891, is 555,617. The cabin passenger list amounts to 111,408, but about half of these, or 56,271, were American citizens. The other 55,137 represent the number of aliens who came here as cabin passengers. Over 20,000 of them were Englishmen; over 9,000 Germans, 9,427 (?) Irishmen and 4,607 came from Scotland. Holland contributed about 1,100 and Spain over 1,500. The rest were from pretty much all over the countries of Europe and Asia. China's quota was only 93.

But greater interest is felt in the steerage passengers. These number no less than 444,209. Of this number 15,591 were American citizens, making the total alien immigration by steerage 428,618. The nativity of this vast army was as follows:

Country Total   Males   Females
Ireland 35,904   18,453   17,451
England 22,685   14,835   7,850
Wales 432   305   127
Scotland 4,949   3,310   1,639
Germany 79,250   45,823   23,427
France 3,957   2,254   1,703
Russia 49,624   30,236   19,388
Poland 27,997   17,608   10,389
Switzerland 6,308   4,036   2,272
Sweden 32,414   18,925   13,489
Norway 10,647   6,682   3,965
Belgium 2,715   1,793   922
Holland 4,278   2,588   1,690
Italy 65,434   53,329   12,105
Spain 135   116   19
Portugal 1,889   1,092   797
Denmark 9,029   5,554   3,475
Hungary 25,201   18,164   7,037
Austria 27,701   19,337   8,364
Bohemia 8,066   4,297   3,769
Finland 4,113   2,909   1,204
Armenia 820   786   34
Australia 14   10   4
Turkey 70   57   13
Arabia 1        
Greece 1,042   994   48
All Other Countries 3,493   2,598   1,345

The total number of males was 276,092; females 152,526. Of the whole number of alien passengers landed, 76,553 were under fifteen years old, 304,528 were between fifteen and forty, and 47,537 were over forty years old.

The increase in Italian immigration this year is remarkable, being about 25,000 greater than in 1890, which was over 42,000.

While the year's immigration was distributed pretty generally throughout the country, it will be observed in the following table showing the destination that one-half came to this State, of course in many instances only to stay here temporarily:

State   Number   State   Number
Alaska   .   Massachusetts   12,377
Alabama   382   New Hampshire   699
Arizona   236   North Carolina   421
Arkansas   479   North Dakota   895
Connecticut   8,459   Nebraska   3,180
Colorado   2,706   Nevada   732
California   6,299   New Jersey   14,953
Delaware   881   New Mexico   482
District of Columbia   644   New York   227,798
Florida   454   Ohio   9,771
Georgia   412   Oregon   1,420
Indiana   2,095   Pennsylvania   48,276
Indian Territory   410   Rhode Island   2,682
Ilinois   28,928   South Carolina   384
Iowa   4,853   South Dakota   1,098
Idaho   463   Tennessee   578
Kentucky   822   Texas   3,114
Kansas   2,014   Utah   869
Louisiana   794   Vermont   718
Maine   734   Virginia   594
Maryland   1,805   West Virginia   536
Michigan   9,559   Wisconsin   7,557
Missouri   3,843   Washington   1,210
Minnesota   8,669   Wyoming   430
Mississippi   506   Total   428,618
Montana   1,356        

Compare the foregoing with [the] table of destinations of those landed last year. Here it is:

State   Number   State   Number
New York   136,836   Oregon   1,234
Pennsylvania   57,281   South Dakota   920
Ilinois   29,005   New Hampshire   889
New Jersey   17,497   Montana   862
Massachusetts   13,192   Kentucky   775
Ohio   13,021   Louisiana   634
Michigan   12,026   Vermont   550
Minnesota   7,786   Maine   547
Connecticut   7,208   Tennessee   544
Wisconsin   6,868   West Virginia   524
Iowa   6,549   District of Columbia   522
California   6,462   Alabama   479
Missouri   4,708   Virginia   454
Nebraska   4,059   Wyoming   390
Texas   4,054   Georgia   370
Rhode Island   2,808   Idaho   340
Colorado   2,756   Nevada   294
Maryland   2,345   South Carolina   249
Kansas   2,186   New Mexico   245
Indiana   2,087   Mississippi   242
Arkansas   2,033   Indian Territory   227
North Dakota   1,686   North Carolina   196
Delaware   1,484   Arizona   191
Utah   1,464   Alaska   10
Washington   1,320   Total   358,510

The occupations of these foreigners were as follows:

Occupation   Number   Occupation   Number
Architects   69   Machinists   1,982
Brewers   759   Millers   838
Butchers   1,588   Musicians   1,079
Barbers   1,264   Painters   1,837
Bakers   2,404   Peddlers   3,531
Blacksmiths   2,092   Plasterers   731
Bartenders   468   Porters   610
Bricklayers   1,163   Potters   209
Carpenters   3,268   Printers   895
Cabinet-makers   1,923   Saddlers   578
Confectioners   560   Shoemakers   4,319
Cigarmakers   1,224   Spinners   367
Cooks   704   Tailors   9,013
Coopers   428   Tinsmiths   1,030
Farmers   49,145   Tanners   605
Florists   260   Wagonsmiths   432
Gardeners   1,126   Weavers   1,526
Hatters   836   Waiters   925
Ironmoulders   715   All Other Occupations   6,420
Laborers   159,403   No Occupation *   152,126
Locksmiths   1,388   Total   428,618
Laundrymen   34        
Masons   3,076        
Miners   5,668        

* -- No occupation, including women and children.

Last year only 17,616 farmers came here, or less than a third as many as came in 1891. The increase in the number of laborers is also noticeable--about 14,000.

The total number returned in the year thus far is 1,360. Of this number 450 consisted of those who came back for relief within a year after landing; 626 were barred as liable to become a public charge; 160 were sent back as having come in violation of the Contract Labor Law; 67 were diseased persons; 355 were convicts, 16 insane; 2 were idiots, and 4 were polygamists.

So much has been said and written of late of an alarming character as to the rapid way in which this country is being filled up with foreigners that it is somewhat refreshing to hear the other side. This has been in an interesting way by Mr. Austin, the manager of the Money Exchange at the Barge Office, and a student of the immigration question. While a firm believer in the wholesome restriction of immigration, Mr. Austin maintains that this country is far, far from the prohibitive point. In support of this contention he draws a comparison between some of the countries of the Old World and various States of the Union as to population per square mile. Here are some of his figures:
England's area is about 5,800 square miles, about the size of New York and New Jersey combined; its population is about 25,000,000 or 330 inhabitants to the square mile, exclusive of London, while New York has only 6,000,000, or about 32 to the square mile, outside of New York City. Belgium is the most densely populated country of Europe. Its population is 461 to the square mile; Italy's is 230, and Denmark's population is about 130; Sweden, about 28, and Norway about 18. Norway s the most sparsely settled country of Europe, but compare it and the others wit some of our States, with Texas, for example, with its area of 263,000 square miles, and a population of nine to the square mile, or Kansas, with a population of nine to the square mile, or the 'Dakotas, with a population of about five to the square mile, or New Mexico, with only two to the square mile, or Washington, with three or four to the square mile, or Idaho, with less than one, or Wyoming, or Nevada, or Oregon, or even Michigan, Missouri or Iowa. Iowa, with an area of 55,045 square miles of rich country, has only about thirty people to the square mile. Michigan has about thirty-one or thirty-two; Missouri has about the same.

"We are suffering," said Mr. Austin, in discussing this point the other day, "not so much from over-immigration, as far from a lack of discrimination, for if our country was settled to-day as thickly as England, Texas alone would have plenty of room for the population of our entire nation. There is far les danger from over-population than there is from filling our cities with lawlessness and vagrancy. We must draw the line of restrictive legislation sharply, but it is a long way in the future before we shall be ready to get along without the good immigration."

Mr. Austin, by the way, is a clever amateur photographer. The pictures which illustrate this article were taken by him.   next ►►







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