Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton, once known as Castle Garden, is a circular sandstone fort now located in Battery Park, in Manhattan, New York City. It is perhaps best remembered as America’s first immigration station (predating Ellis Island), where more than 8 million people arrived in the U.S. from 1855 to 1890. Over its active life, it has also functioned as a beer garden, exhibition hall, theater, public aquarium, and finally today as a national monument.
name: Castle Clinton National Monument (formerly Castle Garden)
architect: John McComb, Jr.; U.S. War Department
Excerpt from Daytonian in Manhattan:
Since the 17th century the lowest point in Manhattan, then known as Schreyer’s Hook, had contained a fortification of one kind or another. But around 1788 it was resolved to demolish the badly damaged old stone Fort and build a residence for the President of the United States on the site. Known as the Government House, its foundation stones came from the old fort. For nearly 20 years New York City’s southern tip would be without protection.
In 1806 Congress dedicated 400 feet of ground off shore for the erection of a national fortress. Planned by Lt. Joseph G. Totten of the United States Engineers, the project relied on a stone mole constructed below the water line. The South West Battery would be connected to Manhattan by a long drawbridge. Completed around 1811, the large oval-shaped fort, capable of mounting 28 heavy cannon, was built of red sandstone with walls thick enough to withstand a cannon barrage. Inside were cisterns, two large magazines for the storage of weapons, explosives and provisions, and barracks for the soldiers and officers. […]
On August 1, 1855 Castle Garden opened as an immigrant processing station. The New York Times said “Bob Murray got out his brand new books, all ruled and labeled, to keep the record of the new comers, his assistants were ready for service in ascertaining their wants; the bathtubs were full of Croton for anticipated ablutions, and Captain Cruttenden was duly prepared to give the aliens all needful dispatch by railroad or steamboat to their Western homes.”
The Committee that insisted that the Castle Garden location would prevent the immigrants from being ill-used apparently did not consider rogue workers. On July 7, 1857 the New-York Daily Tribune printed a letter to the editor that complained “It is a fact too well known, that the Castle Garden establishment, beneficial as it may be to the immigrants, generally speaking, is still very far from being perfect—very far from preventing all abuses. Again it is a matter of notoriety that a considerable number of immigrants (almost all of them Germans) have lost their luggage at the Castle Garden depot, after having been compelled to intrust [sic] it to the safe keeping of the establishment, and have never been compensated for such losses.”
The Castle Garden commissioners held a monopoly on railroad tickets and hotel bookings for the immigrants. If a runner were found offering lodging even at an approved boarding house, that establishment would lose its ability to house immigrants. The penalty often spelled the end of the small businesses. The Evening World complained on October 14, 1887 that “the pool” (the authorized railroad tickets) overcharged the newcomers. A runner was able to offer tickets to Omaha, for instance, at $23.75 each. “The rate charged by the pool in the Garden is $26,” said the newspaper.