America's first immigration station: Castle Garden

Before Ellis Island went into service, people coming to the U.S. would be processed through Castle Garden. 

For 34 years, from August 1, 1855, when it opened, to April 18, 1890, over 8 million people entered the U.S. through Castle Garden. Among them, was Mother Cabrini, later canonized as Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, from the village of Sant'Angelo Lodigiano in Italy, who worked tirelessly to help Italian immigrants.

But Castle Garden was not just the first processing station: it was built before the War of 1812, as one of the forts in New York Harbor. Later the fort was deeded to New York City and it became a great entertainment complex, mostly an opera house, where even Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi's works were performed.

After its time as an Emigrant Landing Depot, the building was remodeled once again and reopened as the New York City Aquarium on December 10, 1896. The Aquarium was relocated to Coney Island in 1941. Today Castle Garden is a National Monument.

Castle Garden immigration records are available at:

Photo (Castle Garden & Bay circa 1897) courtesy of the Library of Congress.