According to a New York Times article from 1904, the creation of the New York City subway‘s first twenty-two miles of tunnels required the removal of 3.6 million cubic yards of stone and dirt, so much dirt that if organized into a pile it would reach twelve miles into the air. Since then, the subway system has continued to expand with new extensions like the Second Avenue Subway on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. So what happens to all those tons of dirt and stone misplaced by the giant tunnels of the subway? Here are six places that were built or extended using material extracted from New York City’s subway tunnels: 

6. Ellis Island

Ellis Island-Aerial View 2-Save Ellis Island-NYCEllis Island. Image courtesy Save Ellis Island.

Ellis Island, which spans nearly twenty-eight acres today, started out measuring just over three acres. The first expansion of the island was completed in 1902 with infill from the excavation of the IRT subway tunnels in Manhattan. In 1911, according to the National Parks Service, the island was further expanded by five acres with infill from excavations of the BMT subway lines in Brooklyn. This dirt was used to create “Island 3” where the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital was eventually constructed. The island grew to its final size in 1934.

The source of the infill became part of a court battle between the states of New York and New Jersey in the 1990s over the jurisdiction of the island. New Jersey conceded that the original, natural, 3.3 acres belonged to New York, but argued that the artificial areas of the island fell under New Jersey’s jurisdiction since they fell west of demarcated border between the two states which runs down the middle of the Hudson River.

Part of New York’s defense was that most of the fill used for the artificial parts of the island came from the New York City subway tunnels. In 1998 it was ruled that New Jersey had authority over the south side of Ellis Island, the landfill portion, and New York retained ownership of the original acreage where the immigration center stands. Though New York has jurisdiction over this part of the island, the small triangle in front of the immigration center, where the flagpole is, belongs to New Jersey.

To learn more about Ellis Island, join us on our Behind-The-Scenes Hard Hat Tour of the Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital Complex!

Behind-the-Scenes Hard Hat Tour of the Abandoned Ellis Island Hospital