Castle Garden, 1855-1890

by Ruby Coleman

With all the interest in the Ellis Island web page, researchers believe answers to immigrant ancestry will come alive on that page. It is a very useful site, but users need to know the history of Ellis Island and other ports of entry. Not everybody was processed through Ellis Island.

From 1 August 1855 to 18 April 1890, Castle Garden was New York City's landing center. It became the city aquarium from 1896 to 1941 and today is known as Castle Clinton National Monument. Today it contains a visitor center for New York's National Parks and Monuments.

Castle Garden is located on an island off the southwest tip of Manhattan. It was the first center for examining and processing immigrants. The contract between the United States and New York state was terminated in 1890, at which time the United States assumed control of immigration. New York refused to allow the federal government the use of Castle Garden.

Receiving stations, such as Castle Garden, prevented people with contagious diseases from entering the United States. The stations also served to help immigrants who were victims of deceit and robbery. Before Castle Garden (1855) ship passengers were allowed to disembark directly from the ship onto wharfs.

After the termination of the contract in 1890, immigrants were processed at the Old Barge Office. This was located at the southeast end of Manhattan near the U.S. Customs Office. Ellis Island, the first federal immigrant receiving station, was opened on 1 January 1892. At least 10,000 immigrants a day could be processed through the station.

Ellis Island was the federal government's first attempt at establishing a receiving station. A year later, the government began establishing stations at other ports. Ellis Island was used from 1 January 1892 to 13 June 1897. On June 14th just before midnight a fire broke out in the wooden building, destroying the building and administrative records for 1855-1890. However, the actual manifest that genealogists use were kept elsewhere and not destroyed.

Once again the Old Barge Office was used from 14 June 1897 until 16 December 1900, when on the 17th of December, Ellis Island reopened. The wooden building was replaced with steel, brick and stone.

In the decade prior to the election of President Lincoln, it is estimated that 2,598,214 immigrants came to the United States. They were primarily from Great Britain, Ireland and Germany. With the panic of 1857 and outbreak of the Civil War, immigration declined. Large numbers of Germans arrived in the 1840-1880 time period when 4 million came to these shores. A total of 7.5 million arrived between 1830 and 1890. This was the time period when many passed through Castle Garden.

Whether your ancestor arrived during the Castle Garden, Old Barge Office or Ellis Island time periods, the ship manifests are available for 1820-1947. Some are indexed and some are being indexed and abstracted. Microfilms of the manifests are available at the Family History Library (LDS) and its many centers and also through National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) branches.

Because of the number of vessels arriving daily, it is helpful to narrow your search to a month and year, at the least. Be prepared to read long manifests that contain unusual names. On some the ink has faded making it difficult to ascertain correct names. Before perpetuating the story that your ancestor arrived at Ellis Island, be sure to check out the time period.

Along with the Ellis Island site at, there are other helpful Internet sites for researching passenger lists, particularly those pertaining to arrivals at the port of New York.

Castle Garden at contains an interesting account of the emigrant's experience and a photograph of Castle Garden.

Another informative site for all of the stations in the port of New York is The Immigration Experience at

Information from the catalog Immigration and Passenger Arrivals, published by the National Archives, can be found at

Another helpful web page is Finding New York Passenger Arrival Records, 1820-1957 at

To check out passenger lists being transcribed to Internet, look at Immigrant Ship Transcribers Guild at Whenever using transcriptions be sure to check the original record which has been microfilmed.

Waves of humanity beat upon the American shore. Arriving in tall ships, were men, women and children professing their faith and hope. They were our courageous ancestors!

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