Historical Castle Garden Photographs

In this post we will be examining various historical photographs of Castle Garden in NYC. After each photograph we will give a title to the image as well as a publication date. Below that information we will also provide a brief synopsis of what is contained and displayed in the photograph itself. If you have any questions or comments about the material please feel free to leave them below.

Castle Garden Immigrant Depot Entrance (1870 – 1890?)

Interesting photograph of Castle Garden as it displays one of the entrances into the main immigrant depot. We know that this is the depot largely because “Castle Garden” is written in huge text on the front of the building. What I really like about this historical photograph is the various people displayed infront of the building itself. From the looks of it the people range from immigration officers to actual immigrants. It also appears that this photograph was taken either during the late fall or winter as the trees infront of the building have no leaves. The publication considered to have been taken in the later part of the 1800’s, but we cannot confirm that. The only thing we can confirm is that Castle Garden was in operation from 1855 – 1890.

Castle Garden Main Building (1855 – 1870?)

If we look at this photograph we obviously can see the Castle Garden immigration building (the same one in the previous photograph). What’s interseting about this photograph is that there is practically nothing around the main building, leading me to believe that this photograph was taken in the earlier years of operation. This photograph was used in a publication titled the “The Kings Handbook of New York City” – 1893. We know that Castle Garden stopped operation in 1890, so this is obviously a photograph from a previous date.

Castle Garden and New York City Harbor (1902)

A wonderful panoramic photograph we have in our collection that displays Castle Garden off in the distance as well as the surrounding buildings and areas. If you look really really far into the New York City Harbor you can see the statue of liberty. I really like that you get to see a side street next to castle garden in which you get to see the nearby businesses and horse and buggies. Based on the park in the foreground of Castle Garden I can only assume that this photograph was taken in a late spring, summer or early fall time period in 1902.

Castle Garden and NYC Harbor Aerial Photograph (1902)

We have another aerial photograph of Castle Garden and the NYC harbor, again like the last one it was taken in 1902. In the far distance of the harbor you can see the Statue of Liberty a little better. You can also see the various ships throughout the harbor. Based on the steam coming from the boats and buildings and the leafless trees around Castle Garden I’m going to make the assumption that this photograph was taken during the winter months.

If you would like us to find more historical photographs of Castle Garden or other parts of New York City please leave a comment below and make a request!


The History of Castle Garden NYC

Nine-tenths of the emigration from Europe to the United States is through the port of New York. In order to accommodate the vast number of arrivals, the Commissioners of Emigration have established a depot for the especial accommodation of this class.

The emigrant ships, both sailing vessels and steamers, anchor in the river after entering the port. They generally lie off their own piers, and wait for the Custom House boat to board them. As soon as this is done, and the necessary forms are gone through with, preparations are made to land the emigrants, who, with their baggage, are placed on board a small steamer and conveyed to Castle Garden, a round building which juts out into the water at the upper end of the Battery.

In the year 1807, work was begun on this building by order of the General Government, the site having been ceded by the city. It was intended to erect a strong fortification, to be called Castle Clinton, but, in 1820, it was discovered that the foundations were not strong enough to bear heavy ordnance, and Congress reconveyed the site to the city. The building was then completed as an opera house, and was used for several years for operatic and theatrical performances, concerts, and public receptions. It was the largest and most elegant hall in the country, and was the favorite resort of pleasure-seekers. Jenny Lind sang there, during her visit to the United States. It was used for public amusements until 1825, when, the wealth and fashion of the city having removed too high up town to make it profitable, it was leased to the Commissioners of Emigration as a landing-place for emigrants.


This commission has the exclusive charge of the Landing Depot and its inmates. It is composed of six Commissioners, appointed by the Governor of the State. The Mayors of New York and Brooklyn, and the Presidents of the Irish and German Emigrant Societies, are members ex-officio. They are responsible to the Legislature for their acts.

The Landing Depot is fitted up with quarters for the emigrants and their baggage, and with various stores at which they can procure articles of necessity at moderate prices. As most of them come provided with some money, there is an exchange office in the enclosure, at which they can procure American currency for their foreign money. Many of them come furnished with railroad tickets to their destinations in the West, which they have purchased in Europe, but the majority buy their tickets in this city. There is an office for this purpose in the building, at which the agents of the various lines leading from the city to the Great West are prepared to sell tickets. No one is compelled to transact his business in the building, but all are advised to do so, as they will then be fairly treated; while they are in danger of falling into the hands of swindlers outside. Attached to the establishment is an official, whose duty it is to furnish any information desired by the emigrants, and to advise them as to the boarding houses of the city which are worthy of their patronage. The keepers of these houses are held to a strict account of their treatment of their guests.

The majority of the emigrants go West in a few days after their arrival. Some have already decided on their place of future abode before leaving Europe, and others are influenced by the information they receive after reaching this country. Should they desire to remain in this city, they are frequently able to obtain employment, through the Labor Exchange connected with the Landing Depot, and by the same means many obtain work in other parts of the country—the Commissioners taking care that the contracts thus made are lawful and fair to both parties.

As we have said, the greater number of the emigrants arriving here have money when they come. Others, who have been able to raise only enough to reach this, to them, “land of promise,” or who have been swindled out of their funds by sharpers in European ports, arrive here in the most destitute condition. These are a burden to the city and State at first, and are at once sent to the Emigrant Refuge and Hospital.


This establishment is located on Ward’s Island, in the Harlem River, and consists of several large buildings for hospitals, nurseries, and other purposes. It has a farm of one hundred and six acres attached to it. The destitute emigrants are sent to this establishment, as soon as their condition is ascertained, and cared for until they either obtain employment, or are provided for by their friends in this country, or are sent to their original destinations in the West at the expense of the Commissioners. Medical attendance is provided at the Landing Depot, and is free to all needing it. Serious cases are sent to the hospital on Ward’s Island, where good medical skill and attendance are furnished.

The number of emigrants at the Refuge sometimes amounts to several hundred of all nationalities. The Irish and German elements predominate, and these being bitterly hostile to each other, the authorities are frequently compelled to adopt severe measures to prevent an open collision between them. In the winter of 1867-68, the Irish and German residents on the island came to blows, and a bloody riot immediately began between them, which was only quelled by the prompt arrival of a strong force of the City Police.

The Commissioners adopt every means in their power to prevent the inmates of the Landing Depot from falling into the hands of sharpers. Each emigrant in passing out of the enclosure for any purpose is required to apply for a permit, without which he cannot return, and no one is allowed, by the policeman on duty at the gate, to enter without permission from the proper authorities. In this way sharpers and swindlers are kept out of the enclosure, inside of which the emigrant is perfectly safe; and when he ventures out he is warned of the dangers he will have to encounter the moment he passes the gateway.

The majority of the emigrants are unable to speak our language, and all are ignorant of the country, its laws, and customs. This makes them an easy prey to the villains who throng the Battery in wait for them.

Approaching these poor creatures, as they are gazing about them with the timidity and loneliness of strangers in a strange land, the scoundrels will accost them in their own language. Glad to hear the mother-tongue once more, the emigrant readily enters into conversation with the fellow, and reveals to him his destination, his plans, and the amount of money he has with him. The sharper after some pleasantries meant to lull the suspicions of his victim, offers to show him where he can purchase his railroad tickets at a lower rate than at the office in the Landing Depot, and if the emigrant is willing, conducts him to a house in Washington, Greenwich, West, or some neighboring street, where a confederate sells him the so-called railroad tickets and receives his money. He is then conducted back to the Battery by a different route, and the sharper leaves him. Upon inquiring at the office, he learns that his cheap tickets are so much worthless paper, and that he has been swindled out of his money, which may be his all. Of course he is unable to find the place where he was robbed, and has no redress for his loss.

Others again are led off, by persons who pretend to be friends, to take a friendly drink in a neighboring saloon. Their liquor is drugged, and they are soon rendered unconscious, when they are robbed of their money, valuables, and even their clothes, and turned out into the street in this condition, to be picked up by the police.

All sorts of worthless wares are palmed off upon them by unscrupulous wretches. They are drawn into gaming and are fleeced out of their money. Dozens of sharpers are on the watch for them, and woe to them if they fall into the hands of these wretches.

Women are prominent amongst the enemies of the emigrants. The proprietors of the dance-houses and brothels of the city send their agents to the Battery, to watch their opportunity to entice the fresh, healthy emigrant girls to their hells. They draw them away by promises of profitable employment, and other shams, and carry them off to the houses of their heartless masters and mistresses. There they are drugged and ruined, or in other ways literally forced into lives of shame.