Ellis Island, complex of one natural and two artificial islands, joined by causeways, in Upper New York Bay, northeastern New Jersey and southeastern New York, near Manhattan. The complex belongs to the U.S. government. From 1892 to 1954 it was the headquarters of a U.S. immigration and naturalization district. The original island was called Oyster Island by the early Dutch colonists; it was later known as Gibbet Island, after a pirate was hanged there in 1765. Samuel Ellis, a merchant of New York City, bought the island in the 18th century and gave it his name. From Ellis it passed to New York State; it was bought from the state by the federal government in 1808, and for a time it served as the site of a federal arsenal. In 1892, when Castle Garden, the immigration station at the Battery in lower Manhattan, could no longer handle the flow of immigrants, the reception headquarters was transferred to Ellis Island. In 1898 and 1905, the two additional islands were created by dumping earth and rock nearby. It is estimated that about 12 million immigrants entered the country through Ellis Island. Due to declining immigration, the Immigration Service closed the station in 1954 and transferred its activities to Manhattan. In 1990, the former immigration station was dedicated as a museum, after undergoing a six-year-long renovation. The museum contains documents and artifacts related to four centuries of American immigration.
In 1993 the State of New Jersey sued the State of New York, asserting that the portions of the 11-hectare (27-acre) island that had been filled in between 1898 and 1905 were part of New Jersey. New Jersey based its claim on an 1834 agreement that established the boundaries between the two states. In that agreement, New York owned Ellis Island and New Jersey controlled the island’s surrounding waters and submerged areas. In 1998 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the 1834 agreement was valid and granted New Jersey jurisdiction over the 9.8 hectares (24.2 acres) created by landfill, leaving New York the original 1.3 hectares (3.3 acres).