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Ellis Island

Date of Submission: 12/04/2017
Criteria: (iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
United States Department of the Interior
State, Province or Region:
New Jersey and New York
Coordinates: 18TN 580948 4505843
Ref.: 6233

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Ellis Island is a small, mostly artificial island located in Upper New York Harbor off the southern tip of Manhattan and less than half a mile (0.75 km) from the Statue of Liberty.  On its 27.5 acres (11.1 ha) are over 40 buildings and other site features associated with the former Ellis Island Immigration Station, which opened in 1892 and functioned until 1954, when the station was closed.  The Main Building has been restored and since 1990 has housed the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.  It is managed as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.  The buildings on the island also include a major hospital complex.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Ellis Island is a remarkable illustration of the Great Atlantic Migration, the voluntary mass migration in which millions of people, mostly from Europe, moved to North America and South America from the mid-ninteenth through the early twentieth century.  Most of these people – about 17 million between 1880 and 1910 (37 million between 1820 and 1980) went to the United States, and approximately 70% of the immigrants entering the United States during the first half of the 20th century were processed at Ellis Island, as well as the 2% of arrivals who were turned away.  The evidence of this activity is preserved in the complex of buildings remaining on the island, with more than 40 extant buildings and site features that represent all aspects of the immigrant arrival process and experience, as well as later periods when immigration to the United States was more restricted.  The museum of immigration in the Main Building and Kitchen Laundry building presents this history to visitors, who can see many of the restored facilities, historic objects and immigrants’ stories.

Criterion (iv):  Ellis Island is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble that illustrates the period in global history of a significant voluntary movement of peoples, specifically the Great Atlantic Migration from Europe to the Americas.  The dozens of structures remaining on the island testify to the intense activity of the immigration process in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the peak of European immigration to the United States, and to the complexity of the process that controlled their entrance.  The buildings on the island include the grand Main Building through which millions of immigrants passed, and which houses the museum of immigration; as well as many other buildings associated with the processing and care of both healthy and sick or injured immigrants.  Some of these other buildings include the Kitchen Laundry building, Bakery Carpentry building, New Immigration building, Baggage and Dormitory building, the Main Hospital, and the Contagious Disease Complex. 

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The property includes the full range of the physical infrastructure that was required to receive, physically examine, treat, question and release or detain the very large number of  immigrants that arrived during the active period.  Its location on an island ,where the only later function has been the presentation to the public of its history, has preserved the complex intact, and also serves to maintain and protect its setting.   The Main Building, Kitchen Laundry building, Bakery Carpentry building, Power House, New Immigration building, Laundry building (south side), multiple corridors and the Ferry Building have been restored, and other buildings not open to the public have been stabilized after years of disuse.  A Development Concept Plan was completed in 2005; the National Park Service is working with the Save Ellis Island Foundation to update this plan to address the future needs of the stabilized buildings, including considerations of potential flooding related to climate change.

The form, design, materials, and interrelationships of the buildings on their island setting are authentic reflections of the activity at Ellis Island during the years when it served as the main portal for immigration to the United States from Europe, and during later periods until the mid-20th century as well.  The history of Ellis Island and its components is well documented, bolstered by the research that supports the museum in the Main Building/Kitchen Laundry building.

Comparison with other similar properties

There are other global properties associated with the Great Atlantic Migration such as Pier 21 in Halifax Canada, Hospedaria de Imigrantes (Immigrants’ Hostel) in São Paulo, Brazil, and Hotel de los Inmigrantes (Immigrants’ Hotel) in Buenos Aires, Argentina; quarantine stations such as the Lazaretto in Philadelphia and Grosse Île in Canada; and emigration facilities such as the Tullhuset (Customs House) in Gothenburg, Sweden, Red Star Line harbor sheds in Antwerp, Belgium, and Dworzec Morski (Marine Station) in Gdynia, Poland.

It is believed that, while these properties illustrate various aspects of the Great Atlantic Migration, Ellis Island is associated with a significantly large proportion of the historical phenomenon and has preserved, through its island setting and lack of later uses, a more complete representation of the immigrant reception and examination process.