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Early immigrants to the United States came from nations such as England, Ireland, Germany and the Scandinavian countries and constituted the first large wave of immigrants that settled and populated the U.S.
There were no receiving stations prior to Aug 3, 1855.....Immigrants landed at hundreds of places along the rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The individual states (rather than the Federal government) regulated immigration into the United States during that time.
The first center for examining and processing arriving immigrants was in a former music hall on an island off of Manhattan, called Castle Garden. The center was founded by New York State, not the federal government. It existed from August 3, 1855 - April 18, 1890.
Throughout the 1800’s and intensifying in the latter half of the 19th century, ensuing political instability, restrictive religious laws and deteriorating economic conditions in Europe began to fuel the largest mass human migration in the history of the world. It soon became apparent that Castle Garden was ill-equipped and unprepared to handle the growing numbers of immigrants arriving yearly.
The Federal government intervened and began construction on a new Federally-operated immigration station on Ellis Island (a piece of derelict federal property situated in New York Harbor).
While the new immigration station on Ellis Island was under construction, the US government established a temporary processing center in a federal building at the southeast foot of Manhattan....the old Barge Office, from April 19, 1890 - December 31, 1891.
This new building on Ellis Island was to become the country's first Federal immigrant processing station, and opened on January 01, 1892. The building was cavernous, and hailed as a modern marvel. It was constructed entirely of wood, was three stories high and had abundant windows for light and air. It was designed to handle easily up to 10,000 immigrants a day.
On June 14, 1897 (5 ½ years after opening), a fire broke out in the state-of-the-art, all-wooden building, and it burned to the ground rapidly.
The morning after the fire, on June 15, 1897, the old Barge Office was reactivated again as a temporary immigrant processing center, while construction on another new Ellis Island building was begun. The Barge Office would be used as such for three and one half years (until December 16, 1900).
On December 17, 1900, the new building on Ellis Island---constructed of steel, brick and stone, and designed to be fireproof---opened.
The Immigration Act of 1924 changed things for Ellis Island. This law deprived Ellis Island from inspecting immigrants. This would be done through U.S. Embassies. Henceforth, Ellis Island would become essentially a detention and deportation center.
Finally, on November 29, 1954, Ellis Island was put on the government's list of excess property.
Thus, out of a period of about 100 years (from Castle Garden in 1855, to 1954), only about 30 years of that time was Ellis Island an actual immigration processing center.
If you would like to research your ancestors names on the Ellis Island Immigration Records, go to ellisisland.org. If you would like to search the Castle Garden Immigration Records, go to castlegarden.org.