Aerial view of Ellis Island

Over the course of more than 60 years, from 1892 to 1954, the immigration station at Ellis Island processed millions of immigrants who traveled from all over the world to start a new life in America. Before immigration services were conducted on the island, the land played a significant role in the history of New York City. From acting as the base of a tavern to a coast guard training station, Ellis Island has served many purposes through the centuries.

To learn more about Ellis Island’s often forgotten history, you can join Untapped New York Insiders for an exclusive screening of Unforgotten: Ellis Island. During the webinar, you will watch a short film about Ellis Island alongside its filmmaker, Aaron Asis and one of its interviewees. The event is free for Untapped New York Insiders (get your first month free with code JOINUS). If you would like to experience the historic immigration center in person, join us on our Ellis Island Hard Hat Tour. During this experience, you will discover the laundry building, contagious disease wards, and so much more as you walk in the footsteps of Ellis Island’s immigrants. Now, here are nine ways Ellis Island has been used for reasons other than immigration processing.

Ellis Island Main Hall

Unforgotten: Ellis Island Webinar

1. An oyster bed hot spot

Fight between the Dakotahs and the Alconquins
A fight between the Dakota and Algonquin Native American tribes. Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Before the European colonists came to America, Algonquin-speaking Native American tribes used Ellis Island as a home base to harvest food. The island contained large oyster beds and was also a spot where Native Americans could fish for clams and crabs and hunt for small animals.

During restoration work on Ellis Island in 1985, archeologists found discarded shells, pottery fragments, and arrowheads, that gave an idea of how the Native Americans settled on and near the island. Fossilized plants, fish, duck, deer, and turtle bones painted a picture of the diet of the island’s original residents. When the Dutch colonists arrived and took over the island, they named it Little Oyster Island.