America’s first immigration processing center—which saw approximately eight million immigrants pass through—has a varied history. It was originally built as a fort in 1811 to protect Manhattan against a possible British attack in the war of 1812, and in 1824 it was renamed Castle Garden and turned into an entertainment complex that hosted such performers as the famed Swedish singer Jenny Lind (the Swedish Nightingale), General Lafayette on his American tour, and the 19th century celebrity, courtesan, and “Spanish Dancer,” Lola Montez, who inspired the songs,“Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets, ” and Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”
Following the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, Castle Garden was converted into an immigration center where the large numbers of European immigrants who were arriving in America could receive lodging and travel information, medical attention, and honest currency exchange. Castle Garden closed as an immigration center in 1892 when the federal government transferred immigration processing to Ellis Island. Reopening as an aquarium, the repurposed Castle Garden drew 30,000 people to look at creatures from nearby waters, and soon the aquarium had species from around the globe. In 1941, the aquarium closed, and the structure was saved from destruction only by the work of concerned citizens who were able to classify the building as a national monument in 1946.
Now these many years later, true to its varied past, Castle Garden has a new use: a ticket booth for Ellis and Liberty Island tickets. God bless America!