To process the increasing immigration influx in an organized manner, the State of New York led the way by using a former opera house called Castle Garden. As an immigration center from 3 August 1855 to 18 April 1890
, it handled over seven million aliens and perhaps as many as nine million people of all classes. It featured hospital, baggage, and eating facilities. Most of the early immigration laws, coupled with naturalization laws allowing easy citizenship, were not concerned with who came or why. Indiscriminate immigration forever changed the face of America.
Ideas to use Ellis Island for immigration were proposed as early as 1847. But between August 1855 and April 1890 the State of New York tried to manage immigration through the facilities of Castle Garden (formerly Fort Clinton or Castle Clinton, named for DeWitt Clinton), a manmade island. Located in Battery Park at the very tip of Manhattan Island, the military fort saw no action in the War of 1812, was abandoned by 1821, and eventually ceded to New York City in 1823. Renamed Castle Garden, it became a resort. After being connected to Manhattan, it became the nation's largest concert hall.
Next the Castle was leased to the State of New York. But such facilities were not appropriate for the ever-increasing numbers of immigrants. In any language words such as "Castle Garden" and "kesslegarten" had connotations of dreadful mystery. After Castle Garden closed as an immigration depot it evolved into a famous aquarium until 1941, and now hosts visitors as a national monument.
When the federal government took responsibility for immigration activities in 1890, it used the Barge Office -also in the Battery- to inspect passengers. In 1891 alone over 400,000 passengers were processed, 80% of all U.S. arrivals.
The best books
about Castle Garden, in reverse chronological order so you may seek contemporary accounts, include:Strangers at the Door: Ellis Island, Castle Garden, and the Great Migration to America
, by Ann Novotny, 1991.
A well-balanced history of the port of New York, and one of the few texts that treats Castle Garden as an immigration depot. Much of the text is based on an authoritative National Park Service study of 1966. Includes admirable picture essays.Immigrant Life in New York City, 1825-1863
, by Robert Ernst, 1949.
Good treatment of Castle Garden and benevolent societies. Discusses unions, tenements, cultural activities and other aspects of immigrant life. Has excellent notes and appendices such as how parents' occupations changed with their American children.Rise of New York Port, 1815-1860
, by Robert G. Albion, 1939.
Based on exhaustive research, this study includes the subject of "human freight" but has little on Castle Garden as a processing center. Outstanding bibliography, appendices, and index.Immigration and the Commissioners of Emigration of the State of New York
, by Friedrich Kapp, 1870.
Written on the eve of the great flood of immigrants, this work is based on contemporary minutes and annual reports. Very good discussion of subjects such as the voyage, port runners, Castle Garden, and Ward's Island. Good appendices.