6. A World War I Navy way station

The aftermath of explosions on nearby Black Tom Island. Courtesy of Jersey City Past and Present.

The first immigration station at Ellis Island opened in 1892. In that first year, the new immigration station processed over 400,000 immigrants. Immigration through Ellis Island would reach its peak in 1907 when 1.2 million people passed through the island in one year. However, when World War I began, there was a sharp decline in immigration. leaving room for the island to serve new purposes.

In 1916, a nearby explosion on Black Tom Island initiated by German saboteurs forced an evacuation of Ellis Island. When America entered the war in 1917, though, the immigration center turned into a navy way station where ships could pick up supplies. The immigration hospital also admitted wounded servicemen. However, the island’s dark history as a space for detainment also began during this era when it detained over a thousand “alien enemies” who were people suspected of harboring pro-German sentiments.