If you have ancestors who migrated to the United States before 1890, their first meeting with the new country could have been Castle Garden. The better known immigrant reception area on Ellis Island did not start up until 1892.
Castle Garden is located in the current Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan in New York. It was built in the period 1808 to 1811.
Originally built to defend against the British
The fortress never experienced any warfare. The two parts of it were called the West Battery and the South-West Battery. It was built to help defend New York from the British during the revolutionary war with England.
To honour the then New York Mayor Dewitt Clinton, the fortress was renamed Castle Clinton in 1815. The name is still valid, but only 6 years later the US Army chose to remove the Castle Garden’s status as a fort. The fort was then only 10 years old and became a place for public entertainment. It remained like that until 1855 when it became New York’s (and the country’s) first immigrant reception area.
Houdini arrived in the USA via Castle Garden
The Hungarian people’s beloved illusionist Harry Houdini was one of those who arrived in the United States via Castle Garden. He arrived with his parents, the 3rd of July 1878, on the ship SS Fresin.
A less popular “celebrity” to have arrived in the US was the Irish “Typhoid” Mary Mallon. She landed at Castle Garden in 1884 and established herself as a cook in New York. She was supposedly the first registered typhoid-sick person in the United States and was said to be responsible for infecting at least 53 people with this disease.
From immigrant reception to aquarium
After the time as an immigrant reception Castle Garden was rebuilt as the city’s aquarium. This period lasted until 1941. Turbulent times followed with threats of demolition, but today the immigrant reception is still living a quieter life as a conserved national monument.