How New Jersey won the battle for Ellis Island

June 03, 2017 12:30PM

Ellis Island

Few sights are as closely associated with the history of New York City than Ellis Island, the gateway to the United States for millions of immigrants. But it turns out Ellis Island doesn’t belong to NYC; it belongs to Jersey.

In May of 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that the historic site belonged “mostly to New Jersey, in addition to the federal government, since it’s overseen by the National Park Service,” ending a long-running dispute between New York and New Jersey, according to Curbed and Smithsonian Magazine. And by long-running, we mean running back to colonial times.

The dispute over the island “turned into a shooting war more than once,” writes Ken Jennings for Condé Nast Traveler. But by the early 19th Century, Congress drew a line in the Hudson that gave the island to New Jersey. Still, New York had the lease on the island, and so with NYC it stayed.

Arguments between the states (over river beds, expansions and operation) continued until late last century when the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to give 90 percent of Ellis Island to New Jersey.

[6sqft | Smithsonian] —Christopher Cameron