From 1906 to 1923, House Island served as an immigrant quarantine station, much like Ellis Island in New York, only on a smaller scale. The station consisted of a brick hospital, a wooden detention building, and a shingle-style doctor’s residence. Prior to 1906, immigrants were processed at the Custom House (99 Commercial Street), where in the 1890s, about 4,000 people came through annually. The Traveler’s Aid Society, originally begun by the YWCA (site S24), worked with detainees to provide translation services and entertainment.
When a reporter asked a German woman at House Island if America was the way she had imagined it, she answered that it didn’t seem any different from home. “I had pictured in my dreams high buildings of marble,” she said, “giant skyscrapers, wealth everywhere in profusion, movement and bustle.”