Castle Clinton

Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Garden

Castle Clinton in Battery Park
Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey
Location Battery Park, Manhattan, New York City
Coordinates Coordinates: 40°42′13″N 74°01′00″W / 40.7035°N 74.0168°W / 40.7035; -74.0168
Area 1 acre (0.40 ha)
Built 1808
Architect John McComb, Jr.; Jonathan Williams; U.S. War Department
Visitation 2,949,231 (2004)
Website Castle Clinton National Monument
NRHP Reference # 66000537
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NMON August 12, 1946
Designated NYCL November 23, 1965

Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton, once known as Castle Garden, is a circular sandstone fort now located in Battery Park, in Manhattan, New York City. It is perhaps best remembered as America's first immigration station (predating Ellis Island), where more than 8 million people arrived in the U.S. from 1855 to 1890. Over its active life, it has also functioned as a beer garden, exhibition hall, theater, public aquarium, and finally today as a national monument.


Historic use

Castle Clinton stands approximately two blocks west of where Fort Amsterdam was built in 1626, when New York City was known by the Dutch name New Amsterdam. Construction began in 1808 and was completed in 1811. The fort, known as West Battery (sometimes Southwest Battery), was designed by architects John McComb, Jr. and Jonathan Williams. It was built on a small artificial island just off shore.

West Battery was intended to complement the three-tiered Castle Williams on Governors Island, which was East Battery, to defend New York City from British forces in the tensions that marked the run-up to the War of 1812, but it never saw action in that or any war. Subsequent landfill expanded Battery Park, and the fort was incorporated into the mainland of Manhattan Island.

As with all historic areas administered by the National Park Service, Castle Clinton National Monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (October 15, 1966).

19th century

The Bay and Harbor of New York by Samuel Waugh (1814–1885), depicting the castle in 1848
First Appearance of Jenny Lind in America, at Castle Garden, September 11, 1850 (Engraving by Currier and Ives)
Aerial view illustration of Manhattan, showing Castle Garden at its tip, ca. 1880
The New York City Aquarium was once housed at Castle Garden (image before 1923)

West Battery was renamed Castle Clinton in 1815, its current official name, in honor of New York City Mayor DeWitt Clinton (who eventually became Governor of New York).

The United States Army stopped using the fort in 1821 and it was leased to New York City as a place of public entertainment. It opened as Castle Garden on July 3, 1824, a name by which it was popularly known for most of its existence, even to the present time. It served in turn as a promenade, beer garden/restaurant, exhibition hall, opera house, and theater. Designed as an open-air structure it was eventually roofed over to accommodate these uses.

In 1850, the castle was the site of two extraordinarily successful concerts given for charity by the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind to initiate her American tour, managed by P. T. Barnum. A year later, European dancing star Lola Montez performed her notorious "tarantula dance" in Castle Garden. In 1853–54, the famous and very eccentric French conductor and composer of light music Louis-Antoine Jullien gave dozens of very successful concerts mixing classical and light music. The Max Maretzek Italian Opera Company notably staged the New York premieres of Gaetano Donizetti's Marino Faliero on June 17, 1851 and Giuseppe Verdi's Luisa Miller on July 20, 1854 at Castle Garden.[2][3]

Immigration holding center

In the first half of the 19th century, most immigrants arriving in New York City landed at docks on the east side of the tip of Manhattan, around South Street. On August 1, 1855, Castle Clinton became the Emigrant Landing Depot, functioning as the New York State immigrant processing facility (the nation's first such entity). It was operated by the state until April 18, 1890,[4] when the Federal Government took over control of immigration processing, which subsequently opened the larger and more isolated Ellis Island facility on January 2, 1892. However, another reason that the Federal Government decided to move immigration services to Ellis Island, was that immigrants were bringing over diseases which were leading to epidemics in cholera and smallpox. After an enormous amount of deaths due to these diseases, it was the only option to move to a more isolated place. Also, a lot of controversy spurred where immigration workers were stealing, hustling, and cheating the immigrants who didn't know what was going on.[5] Most of Castle Clinton's immigrant passenger records were destroyed in a fire that consumed the first structures on Ellis Island on 15 June 1897,[6] but it is generally accepted that over 8 million immigrants (and perhaps as many as 12 million) were processed during its operation. Called Kesselgarten by Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews, a Kesselgarten became a generic term for any situation that was noisy, confusing or chaotic, or where a "babel" of languages were spoken (a reference to the multitude of languages heard spoken by the immigrants from many countries at the site). Prominent persons that were associated with the administration of the immigrant station included Gulian Crommelin Verplanck, Friedrich Kapp, and John Alexander Kennedy.

20th century–present

In 1896, Castle Garden became the site of the New York City Aquarium until 1941. For many years it was the city's most popular attraction, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. The structure was extensively altered and roofed over to a height of several stories, though the original masonry fort remained. In 1941 the politically powerful Park Commissioner Robert Moses wanted to tear the structure down completely, claiming that this was necessary to build a crossing from the Battery to Brooklyn. The public outcry at the loss of a popular recreation site and landmark stymied his effort at demolition, but the aquarium was closed and not replaced until Moses opened a new facility on Coney Island in 1957. See Brooklyn-Battery bridge.[7] Due to Albert S. Bard and other civic reformers, the Castle was saved and finally became a national monument.

Although Castle Garden was designated a national monument on August 12, 1946, the law did not take effect until July 18, 1950, when the legislature and the governor of New York (Thomas Dewey) formally ceded ownership of the property to the federal government. A major rehabilitation took place in the 1970s. Today it is administered by the National Park Service and is a departure point for visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It appears much as it did in its earliest days, contains a museum, and is again called Castle Clinton.

Noted Castle Garden immigrants

In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden, 1884, by Charles Frederic Ulrich
Registering immigrants at Castle Garden in 1866



  1. National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. Brodsky Lawrence pg. 314
  3. George Whitney Martin pg. 184
  4., "Castle Garden – America's First Official Immigration Center"
  5. LeMay, Michael (2013). Transforming America: Perspectives on U.S. Immigration. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC. pp. 204–206. ISBN 978-0-313-39643-4.
  6. The New York Times, 15 June 1897, "Fire on Ellis Island"
  7. Author: Caro, Robert A., The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York, Knopf, 1974. ISBN 0-394-72024-5


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