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There were several islands which were not completely submerged at high tide.Three of them (later to be known as Liberty Island, Black Tom Island and Ellis Island) were given the name Oyster Islands by the settlers of New Netherland, the first European colony in the region.
Originally much of the west shore of Upper New York Bay consisted of large tidal flats which hosted vast oyster banks, a major source of food for the Lenape population who lived in the area prior to the arrival of Dutch settlers. The island was greatly expanded with land reclamation between 18.Before that, the much smaller original island was the site of Fort Gibson and later a naval magazine.Largely created through land reclamation, the island has a land area of 27.5 acres (11.1 ha), most of which is part of New Jersey.The 2.74-acre (1.11 ha) natural island and contiguous areas comprise the 3.3 acres (1.3 ha) that are part of New York.The oyster beds remained a major source of food for nearly three centuries.
Landfilling to build the railyards of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey eventually obliterated the oyster beds, engulfed one island, and brought the shoreline much closer to the others.
On June 15, 1897, a fire of unknown origin, possibly caused by faulty wiring, turned the wooden structures on Ellis Island into ashes.
No loss of life was reported, but most of the immigration records dating back to 1855 were destroyed.
Proposals made in 1995 to use it or replace it with a new bridge for pedestrians were opposed by the city of New York and the private ferry operator at that time.
Much of the island, including the entire south side, has been closed to the general public since 1954.
The ferry operator, Hornblower Cruises and Events, also provides service to the nearby Statue of Liberty.