New Jersey is the official owner of Ellis Island

June 2, 2017

Photo via Wiki Commons

Photo via Wiki Commons

Sorry, New York. Ellis Island, America’s first and biggest immigration center, technically belongs to New Jersey. In May of 1998, the Supreme Court ended a long-standing argument between New Jersey and the Empire State over who actually owns the Island, as Smithsonian Magazine discovered. Based on a land claims agreement between the two states made before Ellis Island became a gateway for nearly 12 million immigrants, the Court decided it belonged mostly to New Jersey, in addition to the federal government, since it’s overseen by the National Park Service.

Ellis Island, New Jersey, Immigrants
Immigrants at Ellis Island in 1902, via Wiki Commons

Ownership of the island, located in the New York Harbor across from Jersey City, was up for dispute since colonial times, and according to an article written by Ken Jennings for Condé Nast Traveler, the argument “turned into a shooting war more than once.” Finally, in 1834, Congress reached an agreement to place a state line in the middle of the Hudson River, giving Ellis Island to New Jersey’s side of the river. However, New York had originally leased the island from New Jersey in 1794, so New York was able to keep it.

During this time, Ellis Island served as the military outpost, Fort Gibson. In 1890, the federal government took over immigration and Ellis Island was chosen as New York’s inspection station for new immigrants arriving in the states. To make way for the millions expected to come, the island was doubled in size.

This angered the state of New Jersey, and they argued the expansion displaced the part of the riverbed and the water they owned, which should allow them to take ownership of the new parts of the island. A court battle resulted in a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling that gave 90 percent of Ellis Island to New Jersey.

Ellis Island, NJ state coin, U.S. Mint
New Jersey’s new state coin honoring Ellis Island, courtesy of U.S. Mint

This year, the U.S. Mint is producing a series of quarters that will showcase national parks and landmarks for each state. Although New York likes to claim the island as its own, New Jersey’s new quarter features the Ellis Island National Monument, with an image of an immigrant family standing before the hospital building. The quarter will be released this August.

[Via Smithsonian Magazine]


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  1. B

    Sorry, the original contours, pre-landfill, of Ellis Island ARE New York. The immigrants landed first at the ship company’s piers most often (95%+) on Manhattan’s (NEW YORK) west side, after sailing through NEW YORK HARBOR. They had sailed from foreign ports to the PORT OF NEW YORK (as indicated on the passenger lists themselves). And, I can guarantee you, NOT ONE immigrant was looking in New Jersey’s direction when they were thinking that they had finally arrived in America. But, beyond all of this, Ellis Island is FEDERAL PROPERTY, which make this a moot point.

  2. J

    Every American Child has been raised knowing that New York was, is, and will always be… the rightful owner of Ellis Island.