Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.
Before Castle Garden was opened in 1855, where were immigrants entering through the port of New York processed?
Before Castle Garden was designated as the central landing place for all immigrants disembarking at the port of New York in 1855, new arrivals came ashore at several different piers along the East River. While immigrants reported to be carrying communicable diseases were quarantined at the Marine Hospital on Staten Island, there was little formal processing that occurred.
Once newcomers disembarked, they were met by often unscrupulous runners—agents of boarding houses and companies that transported immigrants to the interior of the country. Frequently of the same ethnicity and speaking the same language, these runners repeatedly took advantage of new immigrants, overcharging them for rents at boarding houses and rail and steam ship tickets.
Interior of Castle Garden. Harper's Weekly, 1871. Courtesy the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library.
Immigrants landing at Castle Garden. Harper's Weekly, 1880. Courtesy the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library.
In 1847, the New York State legislature established the Board of Commissioners of Emigration. According to historians Frederick Binder and David Reimers, “They were given both the power and the funds to inspect incoming ships and provide aid, information, and employment assistance to the immigrants.”
Opened in 1855, Castle Garden at the southern tip of Manhattan was created by the State of New York to process new immigrants and help them make the transition to the United States. There, immigrants could avoid runners by purchasing railroad and riverboat tickets from reputable vendors, obtain advice from representatives of religious and benevolent societies, and consult employment agencies staffed with translators. After 1892, responsibility for processing arriving immigrants fell to the Federal Government and Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay became the main point of entry for new immigrants.
Immigrants in Castle Garden. Harper's Weekly, 1880. Courtesy the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library.
Source: Frederick Binder and David Reimers, All the Nations Under Heaven: An Ethnic and Racial History of New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).