Removal of Sunken Ferry from Ellis Island Slip Under Way

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Date: November 3, 2009
Contact: Mindi Rambo, 212-668-2208

New York, NY – On Oct. 26, the removal of the sunken ferryboat “Ellis Island” began at Ellis Island. Built in 1904, the ferryboat served the station for 50 years. However, her usefulness came to an end after Ellis Island closed in November 1954, and she made her last journey on November 29. The station and the “Ellis Island” lay abandoned until 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson declared Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and the National Park Service began the labor intensive process of stabilizing the island’s main buildings. Unfortunately, the ferry sank in her berth during a storm in August 1968 before she could be preserved. Ellis Island was opened to the public on a limited basis between 1976 and 1984. Then in 1984, Ellis Island underwent a major restoration, and the Main Building was reopened to the public full time on September 10, 1990.

After 40 years underwater, the ferry has deteriorated to the point where it cannot be raised in one piece or salvaged. Underwater archeologists from the National Park Service have investigated the remains and recovered any artifacts illustrating how the ferry operated. Because of its condition and the potential for presenting a hazard to other vessels, the National Park Service decided to remove what is left and open the ferry slip for future boat traffic. During the removal operations underwater archeologists, a maritime historian, and other cultural resource experts are closely monitoring what is coming to the surface and saving what may be of significance.

The current phase of the project involves the removal of sediment from inside the ferry and the removal of ferry elements such as the engine, boiler and drive train. The next phase will involve the removal of the rest of the “Ellis Island” and is anticipated to take place between Nov. 9 and 20. The final portion of the project will see the removal of the remaining ferry dock structure, the breakup and removal of concrete from the slip and dredging in the slip. The entire project is scheduled to be completed around mid-December.

For visitors who are curious about this historic ferry, The “Ellis Island Chronicles” exhibit on the third floor of the Main Building contains some of the relics that were salvaged since her abandonment, such as a captain's wheel and lanterns.

About the Ferryboat “Ellis Island”
The “Ellis Island” was built by the Harlan and Hollingsworth Co. of Wilmington, Delaware. She began serving the immigration station at Ellis Island in June 1904. In her 50 years of service, she worked eighteen-hour days, hauling passengers of all types between Ellis Island and the Battery – federal immigrant inspectors, doctors, nurses, interpreters, clerks, watchmen, matrons, and charwomen. She carried people bound for Manhattan and, after 1925, carried all people to and from Manhattan. She had logged more than a million miles and carried 15 million passengers. With a captain and crew of seven men, the “Ellis Island” could carry up to 1,000 passengers. One hundred and sixty feet long, she was 45 feet at her widest point and had a displacement weight of 660 tons. She was powered by coal until oil replaced it in 1932. Her accommodations included an upper deck for staff, a lower deck for immigrants, a private room for Ellis Island’s commissioner, an infirmary for 12 patients, and a padded cell for the mentally ill. Having no stalls for horses made her an unusual ferry in 1904.

About Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island
Opened on January 1, 1892, Ellis Island became the nation's premier federal immigration station. In operation until 1954, more than 12 million immigrants were processed at the station. The main building was restored after 30 years of abandonment and opened as a museum on September 10, 1990. It has been estimated that more than 40 percent of America’s population today can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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