Why Save Ellis Island

Why Save Ellis Island

Ellis Island occupies a physical and emotional location no other historic site can match. Ellis Island provides multiple lenses on culture, race, memory and history, through which an American drama of passage, uncertainty and optimism can be better understood.

Ellis Island is hauntingly beautiful. The architecture is magnificent, the views are unparalleled, and the history is palpable. It is the center of global immigration in the harbor of one of the world’s iconic cities. It is a timeless place that personally touches all of us, because all of us have an immigration story.

hallway Ellis Island 

Those who work with us and those who visit the island feel the unique emotional pull of the place. It is an intensely personal experience. Ellis Island is the place where countless American stories unfold, and where innovations were pioneered that have improved our quality of life. For so many of us – we are here today – and healthy today – because of Ellis Island.

For anyone who has a dream, inspired by our past and eager to build our future, the project to restore ALL of Ellis Island is a partnership organization where individuals and institutions can help to bring to life the spirit of immigrants everywhere, while preserving an historic treasure.

Unlike any other monument, Ellis Island holds a unique place in the hearts and minds of all citizens of the world. Every American family has an immigration story; many trace their roots through Ellis Island. Much of our approach to modern public healthcare practices was first deployed there, saving and improving countless lives.

It has been estimated that 40% of Americans today can trace at least one ancestor’s entry into the United States through Ellis Island.

The unrestored buildings were one of the first and largest public health hospitals in the United States. The facility was considered to be the most modern of its day. The 725 bed Ellis Island Hospital Complex, completed in 1909, consisted of a powerhouse, morgue, laboratory and housing for doctors and nurses. Covered corridors connected the main hospital building to infectious disease wards, kitchens, laundries and recreation facilities for patients and staff.


Of the 12 million immigrants who entered America through Ellis Island, 1.2 million failed the initial medical inspection performed by the Public Health Service doctors, and were taken along the covered corridors to the hospitals for further evaluation.

Those who arrived ill or pregnant, or were determined to require treatment during the medical inspection, were admitted to one of the hospital wards. Once admitted to the hospital, patients received the best care in a facility that employed the latest in medical technology.

womens ward blog

When people visit Ellis Island today, they are surprised to learn that there are still 29 buildings currently closed that are waiting to be restored and re-opened. These buildings – the empty wards, the subdued operating rooms, the quiet staff housing and the eerie morgue of the largest United States Public Health Service Hospital at the time – stand empty, awaiting restoration and a new purpose.

At Ellis Island, all of the immigrants were voluntarily passing from one world into another. And at Ellis Island, all immigrants were treated as members of the human family. A wonderful story that needs to be retold in the light of what we now know about other immigrant narratives from the past and present.

In the years that Ellis Island operated as the nation’s busiest immigration facility, the United States welcomed new settlers. Yet many Americans, the progeny of earlier settlers, became concerned by their numbers and their seemingly strange ways. That ambivalence leads us to a fascinating story of nation building amidst diversity and the growing belief in tolerance.

As we discover and agree upon new uses for the buildings, we will not lose sight of our original vision; a place where corporations, non-profits, cultural, educational, and governmental organizations can come together for meetings, conferences and workshops. It is our obligation to ensure the maximum public benefit from the facility, as well as its use in a manner that reflects the site’s important historic significance. A major goal will be to establish a range of activities and public programming related to the issues of immigration, diversity and tolerance, and public/global health. Ellis Island uniquely combines the amenities and energy of the NY/NJ metropolitan area with an internationally revered site, thus making it ideally suited for deliberation, research, and reflection on the issues of the twenty-first century.

tour blog