Castle Clinton National Monument

Edit profile
Castle Clinton National Monument

Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton, once known as Castle Garden, is a circular sandstone fort now located in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, New York City, in the United States. 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.


Today, Castle Clinton stands approximately two blocks west of where Fort Amsterdam stood almost 400 years ago, when New York City was still known by the Dutch name New Amsterdam.

Construction began in 1808 and was completed in 1811. The fort, known as West Battery (sometimes South-west 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 (still extant) 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 never saw action in that or any war. Subsequent landfill expanded Battery Park, and incorporated the fort 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 on October 15, 1966.

Changing names and uses
  • West Battery was renamed Castle Clinton in 1815, its current official name, in honor of New York City mayor Dewitt Clinton.
  • The US Army stopped using the fort in 1821 and it was leased to New York City as a place of public entertainment and 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.
  • In 1851, European dancing star Lola Montez performed her notorious "tarantula dance" in Castle Garden.
  • In 1853 and 1854, the famous and very eccentric French conductor and composer of light music Louis-Antoine Jullien (1812-1860) gave dozens of very successful concerts mixing classical and light music.
  • 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, when the Federal Government took over control of immigration processing, which subsequentially opened the larger and more isolated Ellis Island facility for that purpose on January 2, 1892. 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, but it is generally accepted that over 8 million immigrants (and perhaps as many as 12 million) were processed during its operation. Called Kesselgarden by Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews, a "Kesselgarden" became a generic term for any situation that was noisy, confusing or chaotic. Prominent persons that were associated with the administration of the immigrant station included Gulian Crommelin Verplanck, Friedrich Kapp, and John Alexander Kennedy.
  • 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.
Castle Clinton 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

This list is an incomplete sampling

  • Martin Beck, founder and owner of the Orpheum vaudeville circuit
  • Edward Bok (Holland)
  • Mother Cabrini (Italy)
  • James J. Davis (Wales)
  • William Fox (producer)
  • L. Wolfe Gilbert (Russia)
  • Emma Goldman
  • Oscar Hammerstein I
  • Harry Houdini
  • Lew Leslie
  • Carl Laemmle, founder of the Universal Studios
  • Typhoid Mary (Mary Mallon)
  • M. P. Moller
  • William Morris, founder of the William Morris Agency
  • Joseph Pulitzer
  • Michael I. Pupin
  • J. William Schickel, architect of the firm Schickel & Ditmars
  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Sophie Tucker
  • Bert Williams
  • Adolph Zukor
Castle Garden bibliography
  • Castle Garden as an Immigrant Depot, 1855-1890, by George J Svejda (1968)
  • Castle Garden and Battery Park by Barry Moreno (2007)
  • Guide to the New York Aquarium by Charles H. Townsend (1919)
  • The Public Aquarium by Charles H. Townsend (1928)
Castle Garden/Castle Clinton in fiction
  • Castle Garden by Bill Albert (novel)
  • The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer (1931 novel)
  • The Penguin Pool Murder (1932 motion picture)
  • The Alienist by Caleb Carr (novel)
  • Castle Clinton appears in the video game Deus Ex as a terrorist stronghold the player must infiltrate.
  • An American Tail (animated film)
  • The Land Whale Murders Castle Clinton is the home of the villainous Blowhole Gang
Castle Garden/Castle Clinton in Music
  • The Irish music group Wolfe Tones' 1993 album Across the Broad Atlantic contains a tune called "Goodbye Mick" with the farcical line "For the ship will play with pitch and toss--for half a dozen farthings, I'll roll me bundle on me back, and walk to Castle Gardens."

Building Activity

  • Georgi Sokolov
    Georgi Sokolov activity.buildings_person.create and updated
    about 5 years ago via
  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via
  • fatty_keith
    fatty_keith updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via