News Ellis Island: Facts about the immigration center and beyond By amNY.com staff Updated December 27, 2016 4:09 PM Print Share fbShare Tweet Email A new year offers a chance to start over or to make a change, and for 62 years Ellis Island acted as the gateway to a new life filled with hope for more than 12 million immigrants. Ellis Island’s immigration station opened on New Year’s Day in 1892, but the island’s history stretches even further back. In commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Ellis Island immigration station, take a look back at some of the more fascinating facts about this storied piece of New York City. Ellis Island was originally only 3.3 acres large Photo Credit: Newsday / Dick Kraus The Ellis Island we know today is not the Ellis Island of the past -- and by sizable standards too. By the early 1900s, Ellis Island had grown from 3.3 acres of natural land to 27.5 acres. The island was mostly enlarged using landfill from incoming ships' ballast. There are also rumors that excess earth from constructing the subway system was used to expand the island, per the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. The island has gone by several other names Photo Credit: Getty Images / Kena Betancur Local tribes of Native Americans called Ellis Island "Kioshk," which translates to Gull Island. The Dutch and early English colonials had another name for it: Oyster Island. The name was a nod to the island's scores of oyster beds and shad runs. The island also took on the names of Dyre, Bucking and Anderson's before Samuel Ellis came along and took private ownership in the 1770s. Pirates were hanged on Ellis Island Photo Credit: Getty Images / John Moore Ellis Island also took on the informal nickname of Gibbet Island in the late 1700s and early 1800s after it became a place known for the execution of pirates and other condemned prisoners. A gibbet is a wooden post used to display the bodies of those hanged. After the last hanging in 1839, the use of Ellis Island returned to popularity, History.com reported. It served as a first defense against invasion Photo Credit: Getty Images / Paul Hawthorne Ahead of the War of 1812, the federal government bought Ellis Island and built Fort Gibson there as part of New York Harbor's defense system -- the city's first line of protection in the event of an invasion. The fort, built in 1795, was named in honor of Col. James Gibson, who died during the siege of Fort Erie. The fort is all but gone now. Only the foundation remains. A teen was the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island Photo Credit: Newsday / Mayita Mendez When the Ellis Island immigration station opened on Jan. 1, 1892, the first person to be processed was a teenage girl from Ireland named Annie Moore, per the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. A fire destroyed the Ellis Island immigration center Photo Credit: Newsday / Handout The original structure that housed the immigration center was built out of Georgia pine, so when a fire began on June 15, 1897, the entire building was destroyed. No one was injured in the fire, but state and federal records dating back to 1855 were incinerated. A new, fireproof building, pictured, opened on Dec. 17, 1900. Immigration doctors were known for their ‘six second physicals’ Photo Credit: Newsday / Ken Sawchuk Part of an immigrant's processing at Ellis Island involved a physical exam conducted by a doctor looking for illnesses. Doctors became so skilled at these brief scans, which took place in the Great Hall, pictured, that it was said they could spot various illnesses and conditions with just a cursory look, according to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. Enemies were detained on Ellis Island during WWII Photo Credit: Newsday / Ken Sawchuk As immigrant processing at Ellis Island declined in the mid-1920s, the buildings on the island were put to other uses. During World War II, the baggage and dormitory buildings housed enemy merchant seamen who had been detained by the government, according to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. It was declared a national monument in 1965 Photo Credit: Newsday / Ken Sawchuk Ellis Island was made part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. Ellis Island’s restoration cost $160 million Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton After about eight years of limited public access, Ellis Island underwent a massive restoration in 1984. Funded by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, in partnership with the National Parks Service, the project cost $160 million. By amNY.com staff Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Comments We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.