5. An ammunition supply depot

Ellis Island as a Navy Powder Magazine
Harper’s Weekly 1868, Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly Volume 12.

After the Civil War, the fort was decommissioned, and the army left the island — though the Navy continued to use the site as an ammunition supply depot. Barracks and officers’ quarters were converted into additional magazines and a tank house. New structures including a loaded shell house, powder house, steam fire engine house, kitchen, woodshed, carpenter shop, icehouse, and pigpen were built for the supply depot. The Navy built two new docks and additional railway lines between the main dock and the various magazines.

On the island, the Navy stored explosive black powder that was too unstable to store at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This was alarming to residents of the city who were concerned about such explosive materials being stored so close to the populous city. An article in Harper’s Weekly in 1868 noted that Jersey City, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and New York were in “imminent peril of being at once destroyed.” It wouldn’t be until 1890 that Congress passed a resolution ordering the removal of the U.S. Navy’s powder magazine on Ellis Island. They moved the powder to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island on May 24, 1890.