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A History of Castle Garden Immigration Station (1888)

Castle Garden Immigrant Depot, NY. nd circa 1870s. Stereograph by A. J. Fisher, NY.

Castle Garden Immigrant Depot, NY. nd circa 1870s. Stereograph by A. J. Fisher, NY. Library of Congress # 2017648898. GGA Image ID # 148286dd3a

In 1855 the commissioners leased an old fort at the foot of Manhattan Island, known as Castle Garden, to serve as an immigrant station.


The Commissioners of Emigration organized on May 8, 1847. 'Their first official quarters were in the old almshouse building, New York city, where the county courthouse now stands. They remained there until January 19, 1854, when the structure was destroyed by fire.

Then they had a temporary place in Franklin street, between Broadway and Elm street. for the Board meetings; and also located there were the offices of the vice-president and seeretary, the examining physicians and the receivers of applications for relief or admission to the hospitals. Another office was kept in Canal street for the reception of applications for employment, information or aid. An alarm, however, soon arose from the apprehended introduction of contagious diseases in the neighborhood of both places, which was intensified by the fear of the adjoining property owners that their real estate would depreciate in value.

The courts issued injunctions restraining the commissioners from transacting any business in both offices, but after an interruption of more than two weeks the injunction against the Canal street office was dissolved. Before the other case could he tiled cholera appeared in the city, and the Board of Health took possession of the almost vacant Franklin street office.


At the close of the year the Commission leased a former church edifice in Anthony street (now Worth street), near Broadway, and opposite the hospital grounds, where they remained until the spring of 1858, when all their offices were removed to Castle Garden, the old fort (now the public aquarium) at the end of Manhattan Island, which, by act of the Legislature, was leased on May 5, 1855, and opened in the following August as an immigrant landing station.

The commissioners were enabled by this act to fully carry out the object of their trust. They 'had a well-organized system of reception and distribution under two general departments, the landing depot at Castle Garden and the hospital and refuge department on Ward's Island.

The immigrants were well cared for. An official looked after the sanitary condition of the ships entering the harbor and reported to the superintendent at Castle Garden any negligence on the part of the masters of vessels. The passengers were brought from the ships on barges and were landed in an orderly manner. They answered the inquiries of the medical examiners and those who, through fatal disease Or helplessness were likely to become a public charge, were placed under proper surveillance until arrangements were made for their deportation.

On entering the rotunda, those entitled to land were registered by a clerk, who took down the information required by law, besides their destination, and the names of the relatives they were going to join.

Then they passed on to the next desk, where clerks of the transportation companies ascertained the points to which they were bound, laid before them maps of the various routes, explained the difference in time and price of travel over the different lines, and after a selection was made by the passengers, provided them with an order on the cashier, setting forth the number of tickets required, the route selected, and the price of passage and of over-freight per 100 pounds.

The cashier then issued the class of tickets called for upon payment therefor. The immigrants baggage was checked and secured against loss, and a steamboat was employed to transport the passengers and their property, free of charge, to the starting places of the several railroad and steamboat lines.

A brokerage office, post office, employment office and bathrooms were provided for the immigrants, and an information bureau enabled them to communicate with their friends. Licensed boarding-house keepers were allowed to seek customers within the enclosure, but they had to comply with the strict rules of the Commission, requiting them. to provide suitable board and lodging for the immigrants at prices approved by the Board.


These safeguards seemed to be sufficient to protect the immigrants, but efforts were made by persons who had previously been engaged in practicing fraud and deception upon aliens to hamper the Commission in the performance of their duties and to circumvent the law.

They caused the publication of vicious attacks upon the management of Castle Garden, and went so far as to attempt to have several of the officials indicted by the grand jury, which carefully examined the whole matter, and on September 9, 1856, presented these conclusions: "

On inquiry into the causes of published attacks on the immigrant landing depot, the grand jury became satisfied that they emanated from the very interested parties against whose depredations Castle Garden affords protection to the immigrant, and who are chiefly runners in the employ of booking agents, boarding-house keepers and others who have lost custom by the establishment of a central depot, where the railroad companies have their own business done by their own clerks, and without the extensive intervention of passage brokers.

This class has thrown great difficulties in the way of the proper development of affairs at Castle Garden by constituting a noisy crowd around the gates, and endangers not only the safety of the passengers who have to leave Castle Garden to transact business, but also the employes of the landing depot and of individual Commissioners of Emigration, who are continually insulted in the public grounds surrounding the depot, and have been obliged to carry loaded firearms in self defense against the violence which has frequently been offered to them.

This same class will swarm in boats around the ships in the bay and bias the minds of passengers against the landing depot, and when driven off by the police officers stationed by the Commissioners of Emigration on such ships will abuse these officers in the most violent manner.

The grand inquest, having become satisfied that the immigrant landing depot in all its operations is a blessing not only to the immigrants, but to the community at large, would feel remiss in the performance of a sacred duty if they failed to recommend this important philanthropic establishment to the fostering care of the municipal authorities; and they have dismissed the complaints preferred against certain employes of Castle Garden, satisfied that they are not sustained by law, and have their origin in a design to disturb, rather than to further, the good work for which the establishment was called into life."


The Emigration Commission had about succeeded in stamping out the fraudulent methods so long in vogue on this side of the Atlantic when they discovered the existence of an organized system of deception and dishonesty at the principal points of emigration from Europe, by which great and frequent frauds were committed in regard to the passages of aliens to the interior of the United States.

These people were often overcharged; through false representations they were induced to contract for inland transportation, and in numerous instances they paid for bogus tickets. To prevent this pernicious system of booking in Europe the commissioners were instrumental in having the Government at Washington issue circulars to United States consuls abroad, directing them to call attention to the impostures.

Thereafter there was an abatement of the swindling operations at the German ports, but scarcely any notice was given to the matter at the seaport towns of other foreign countries.


The United States Supreme Court in 1876 declared unconstitutional the New York statutory law under which the Commissioners of Emigration had obtained the revenue that enabled them to grant relief and protection to immigrants. Thenceforth, until 1882, the State made annual appropriations to defray the expenses of the Commission.

Under date of April 29, 1876, the Legislature adopted a resolution instructing the Commissioners of Emigration "to call the attention of the Congress of the United States to the present condition of the immigration laws, resulting from the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States declaring the State laws on the subject unconstitutional and void, and to impress upon Congress the necessity for speedy national legislation in regard thereto, and That the said commissioners -take such steps as in their judgment may be proper to secure such legislation."


The Commission acted in accordance with this Legislative direction, and after consultation and correspondence with the proper -officials of other States, a bill was passed by Congress on August 3, 1882, to regulate immigration. This act provided that Collectors of Customs should levy and collect from Captains or owners of ships a duty of fifty cents for each passenger not a citizen of the United States who came here from a foreign port.

The money thus collected, was ordered to be used, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, to defray the expenses of regulating immigration and for the relief and care of distressed immigrants. He was empowered to make contracts with State officials having charge of the local affairs of immigration, authorizing them to receive all alien immigrants, and to relieve and support those who might fall into distress or require public aid.

An agreement was forthwith entered into between the Secretary of the Treasury and the New York Emigration! Commissioners, giving the latter power to receive immigrants at Castle Garden and to provide means for their accommodation as well as suitable quarters for the sick and needy at the hospitals and other public buildings under the control of the Board, whose expenses were defrayed by the Treasury Department from the fund created under the act.


Believing that a dual administration of immigration affairs by ',State and Federal officials, as provided by the statute of 1882, was not conducive to the improvement of the service, Secretary of the Treasury Windom, in accordance with law, in the early part of 1890, revoked the contract with the State Emigration Commissioners which permitted them to conduct the examination of immigrants, and the service was placed under the supreme control of the United States officials.

Therewith the Federal authorities abandoned the Castle Garden landing station. With this action the functions of the State Commission ceased. The office bad then been in existence for forty-three years, during which the commissioners had succeeded in eradicating swindling practices.

They also inaugurated many reforms, and enlarged: and perfected the system of landing and distributing immigrants, 9,725,430 of whom debarked under the supervision of the State officials. At the time the general Government assumed charge of immigration affairs at the port of New York the State Commissioners were Hons. Edgar L. Ridgway, president, Henry A. Hurlbut, George Starr, Edmund Stephenson, Charles F. Ulrich and Daniel D. Wylie; the ex-officio .members of the Board being Hons. Hugh J. Grant, Mayor of New York, James Rorke, president of the Irish Emigrant Society, and Gustav H. Schwab, president of the German Society. Mr. H. J. Jackson was secretary to the Commission.



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Castle Garden Immigrant Landing Station
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