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The State of New York leased the island in 1794 and started to fortify it in 1795. The fort was initially called Crown Fort, but by the end of the War of 1812 the battery was named Fort Gibson, after Colonel James Gibson of the 4th Regiment of Riflemen, killed in the Siege of Fort Erie during the war.

Ownership was in question and legislation was passed for acquisition by condemnation in 1807 and then ceded to the United States in 1808. Parts of the wall foundations of the fort were uncovered while excavating for the Immigrant Wall of Honor, and they are preserved with an interpretive plaque.

The first station was a three-story-tall structure with outbuildings, built of Georgia Pine, containing all of the amenities that were thought to be necessary. Three large ships landed on the first day, and 700 immigrants passed over the docks.

Almost 450,000 immigrants were processed at the station during its first year.

About 1.5 million immigrants had been processed at the first building during its five years of use.

Plans were immediately made to build a new, fireproof immigration station on Ellis Island.

In the 1760s, after some pirates were hanged from one of the island's scrubby trees, it became known as Gibbet Island. 1, Greenwich Street, at the north river near the Bear Market, That pleasant situated Island called Oyster Island, lying in New York Bay, near Powle's Hook, together with all its improvements which are considerable;...

This was part of what was later called the second system of U. The island remained a military post for nearly 80 years In the 35 years before Ellis Island opened, more than eight million immigrants arriving in New York City had been processed by officials at Castle Garden Immigration Depot in Lower Manhattan, just across the bay.

The federal government assumed control of immigration on April 18, 1890, and Congress appropriated ,000 to construct America's first federal immigration station on Ellis Island.

Since the September 11 attacks in 2001, the island is guarded by patrols of the United States Park Police Marine Patrol Unit.

Public access is by ferry from either Communipaw Terminal in Liberty State Park or from the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan.

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