Ellis Island Closed Until Further Notice
As of June 2013: Due to the conditions caused by Hurricane Sandy, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum will be closed until further notice. A projected reopening date has not yet been established, follow our twitter account for updates. More »
Pre-Contact to Colonization
Library of Congress
During the restoration of the immigration station on Ellis Island in the 1980s, archaeologists revealed the island's buried past. The first people to utilize the island were Native Americans -- members of the Algonquian speaking tribes that lived in the northeast region of North America. They visited Ellis Island because it contained large oyster beds, which were a good source of food. As a result, the island was referred to as one of the three "Oyster Islands" in New York Harbor (Bedloe's, later Liberty, Island was another, and the third was Black Tom Island, slightly west of Bedloe.).
The Upper Bay of New York Harbor was rich with many different types of marine food sources that included striped bass, and other finfish, and many varieties of shellfish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_life_of_New_York-New_Jersey_Harbor_Estuary ). The oysters are easy to define as a food source - they ate the meat and tossed the shells into a midden, a sort of garbage pit. These shells were later found in a shell midden stratum (a type of archeological feature made up mostly of mollusk shells and naturally preserved by the calcium within the shells) by archeologists during restoration work on Ellis Island in 1985. Also among the shells, archeologists found pottery fragments, arrow heads, fish bones, duck bones, deer bones, and turtle bones. These items have given archeologists and historians a better understanding of the Native American's diet and settlement patterns, as well as their keeping the site clean by centralizing their garbage pit and then burying it..
Available archeological data indicates that the Native Americans used both Ellis and Liberty islands to acquire food. From harvesting shellfish to hunting small animals, they found numerous ways to live off the land. They utilized the islands at various times of the year, they fished during the spring, harvested clams, crabs, and oysters during the summer, and hunted year round. They seemed to understand that the cycle of life must be maintained so that they could all exist together in nature.
Did You Know?
On July 30, 1916, a major explosion at the railway terminals on the Black Tom Wharf in Jersey City did considerable damage to the Ellis Island buildings. The walls, ceilings, roofs and foundations of the hospital buildings were weakened, and many windows, casings and doors were blown out. The repairs to the facilities took about a year at a cost of nearly $400,000.00(about $8,333,333.33 in 2012).