Tuesday, November 28, 2023

A History of Immigration Pre-Ellis Island by Donna Schlachter

New York bay, Statue of Liberty, and Castle Garden -- Library of Congress

America’s first facility dedicated entirely to the welfare of immigrants opened in 1855, closing in 1890. During this time, more than eight million of the almost eleven million immigrants who entered the United States passed through Castle Garden.

The largest ethnic group entering through this facility were Germans, followed by the Irish, English, Swedish, Italians, Scottish, Russians, Norwegians, Swiss, French, and others. Amazingly, about twenty percent of Americans today can trace their ancestry back to someone who came through this facility.

We know much of this because this was the first depot that kept detailed records as to names of individuals and families, the vessels they arrived in, their destination, the amount of money they carried, and even the names of family members in the US.
"In the Land of Promise", 1864 by Charles Ulrich (National Gallery of Art)

Castle Garden provided new arrivals with a safe place to buy train tickets, to exchange their money, to contact relatives, to rest and even bathe before starting their new life in America. Think about the joy of washing in fresh water for the first time in months following a cross-ocean sailing in cramped quarters.
The Registration desk at Castle Garden (New York Public Library)

The facility was laid out in a large circle, with an open space surrounded by the various offices and booths the new arrivals had to traverse before receiving approval to continue their journey. Inside the facility, immigrants were separated into two lines: those who could speak English, and those who couldn’t. Translators helped those who didn’t know English.
Interior of Castle Garden (Harper's News Monthly 1871)

Castle Garden Baggage Room (New York Public Library)

When the depot first opened, processing luggage was a nightmare, as all bags were tossed into an arena, and folks had to go through them to find their own. Many went missing, never to be recovered. In 1857, a new system of luggage delivery was introduced, where almost twelve thousand square feet was divided into thirty eight stalls, each designed to hold up to eighty suitcases.

Some folks who arrived weren’t able to pay for the train or coach tickets necessary to get them to where they wanted to go. They would leave their baggage at the Depot for up to six days, while they sought work nearby to pay for their passage.

The Exchange Office offered a safe place for immigrants to exchange their foreign currency for American money. The Office posted the exchange rates from Wall Street and update it as the rate changed through the day.

The Railroad Office hosted three companies with connections to New York City. Railroad agents would ask for the destination, then pull out maps and schedules, writing down where and when to change trains at various hubs.

Once business was concluded, immigrants could wander the Rotunda, where two snack bars and a restaurant offered food and drink. Approved boarding house agents advertised safe housing, and relaxation was encouraged.
Castle Garden Bathing Rooms (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1866)

The Bathing Rooms were the last stop before leaving the Rotunda. All immigrants received soap, water, and a towel, and bathing was a requirement.
The Castle Garden Hospital (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1866)

Outside the Rotunda, a second space was fenced off from the rest of Battery Park. Here, an information bureau, a small hospital, and labor bureaus were located. The hospital employed two physicians and a surgeon, and they inspected all immigrants for health issues. The Information Bureau was built around 1866 to provide information about New York City, and a waiting room where folks could wait until their family arrived to take them home. After every immigrant was registered, they were assembled by family, and their surnames called out. Relatives would step forward and claim them. The Labor Exchange was built in 1867 to help immigrants find work in New York City.
Immigrants in front of Castle Garden in Battery Park (Harper's Magazine 1868)

When ready, the main door would open, releasing a wave of immigrants to Battery Park, where many would sit on benches or on the ground to take in their first glimpse of their new home.

Leave a comment: Would you rather fly or sail to a foreign land to start life over again?
About A King for Kinsella

Kingston Marchmont flees Australia in search of a new life—and a new opportunity to prove he isn’t the man wrongfully convicted and transported.

Kinsella Jackson struggles to raise her four children following her husband’s mysterious death. Did he jump? Was he pushed? Or was it an accident?

Releases December 30, 2023. Available for preorder now: https://www.amazon.com/King-Kinsella-Mail-Order-Papa-ebook/dp/B0CDFK6LYV

And check out the rest of the Series: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C5F246HT

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 60 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter. She is taking all the information she’s learned along the way about the writing and publishing process, and is coaching writers at any stage of their manuscript. Learn more at https://www.donnaschlachter.com/the-purpose-full-writer-coaching-programs 
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  1. Thank you for posting today. You pose a difficult question as I have never flown nor sailed before. And you're talking about having to uproot everything to start over....I suppose the easiest might be a ship, as far as having your belongings end up where you are when you get there. But with regards to immigrants who come to America to start over, they leave most of what they own to come here so if it were to save my life I suppose the material things would be left behind.

  2. I would rather fly. But I haven't flown since 1975. It would get me there faster. We have moved almost 20 times in 54 years. Such is the life of the military and pastorate.