ELLIS ISLAND (AP) — A significant piece of American immigrant history, abandoned and fallen into disuse for decades, is reopening today on Ellis Island after extensive restoration.
The Ferry Building, where many new Americans caught rides off the island to begin their new lives after passing a maze of legal and health inspections, is the first of 30 shuttered buildings on the island to be reopened. Parts of the island were opened to the public in 1990 for the first time since the immigration complex was shut down in 1954. But few people have been able to explore the rest of the historic island, including the buildings closest to the neighboring island where the Statue of Liberty stands.
The development is one that historians say is long overdue.
“Every square inch has significance to American history,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a history professor at Columbia University.
The Ferry Building “was one of the happiest places on the island,” said Elizabeth Jeffery, director of program development and administration for Save Ellis Island, the organization that helped spearhead the building’s $6.4 million restoration.
Ellis Island was the gateway to America for more than 12 million immigrants. As many as 5,000 people passed through the processing center a day at its peak in the early 1900s.
Since the Immigration Museum opened in 1990, Ellis Island has been a major tourist destination in New York Harbor, drawing 1.7 million visitors last year.
Part of the reason that the southern end of the 27.5-acre island remained untouched was that it wasn’t clear who controlled the island — New York or New Jersey. The U.S. Supreme Court settled that question in 1998, granting sovereignty over 22.5 acres to New Jersey, and the nonprofit Save Ellis Island began raising money for the restoration.
The art deco-style Ferry Building was constructed in 1934 as a Depression-era Works Projects Administration project, at a cost of $133,000.