Ellis Island

PAL has assisted the National Park Service (NPS) with a range of archaeological projects on Ellis Island in support of various infrastructural improvements. Part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island is located in the shared territorial jurisdiction of New York and New Jersey, and served as the port of entry for more than 12 million immigrants entering the United States from 1892–1954. Designated a national park in 1965, it is now home to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. 


In 2006, PAL completed Phase I archaeological investigations on Islands 2 and 3 in advance of proposed rehabilitation of the seawall. The location and high profile of the park, combined with heightened security concerns, posed several challenges for the project:

  • PAL staff were required to adhere to strict security and safety protocols, as were the sub-contractors hired by PAL to conduct machine excavations
  • Heavy machinery used during the project had to be carefully selected to ensure that it could be taken into specific portions of the project area, while the excavations themselves had to be carefully monitored not only for archaeological resources but to ensure that the testing did not disturb the root systems of historic tree specimens
  • The subsurface excavations resulted in the identification on Island 2 of the remains of the original 1891 breakwater bulkhead, the foundation remains of the former Red Cross building, and slate curbing associated within a former walkway leading from the seawall to the Surgeon’s House. Test pits in and around a relict greenhouse on Island 3 also provided insights into its date and method of construction.


  • Management recommendations included archaeological monitoring of the breakwater bulkhead and Red Cross foundation remains during the construction phase of the project, and avoidance of the extant greenhouse foundation.
  • PAL’s successful completion of the project allowed the NPS to move forward with the seawall rehabilitation project and documented important elements of the construction and landscaping history of the island.
Client Name: 
National Park Service
Project Name: 
Ellis Island
Project Date: 
2006 to 2009
Project Location: 
New York and New Jersey