By: Douglas Love, Chair, California History Board
The 19th Century was one of unparalleled growth and innovation for the United States. When the century began, the United States stopped at the Mississippi River and almost all of the land west of the Appalachians was unsettled wilderness. By 1900, the country became a true continental power. It stretched from “sea to shining sea”. Telegraph wires and rails of steel bound the country together. The United States had become a world power in a century, the “miraculum mundi”, a world power in it’s own right with overseas possessions, agricultural and industrial might which would soon make the American Republic the undisputed leader in the world.
This expansion was not without setbacks. The Native Peoples fought, and ultimately lost, a long running war against the United States and were recused to little more than curiosities, living on tracts of land which the US government deemed fit for little else. There had been a bloody Civil War, the costliest war in United States history. Slavery had been ended, but the African American population were treated as, at best, second class citizens. There had been economic booms, busts, strikes, and there was great wealth, in the hands of a few, and great poverty for many. There was, also a great flood of immigration from around the globe because it was, by and large, manual labor which made the United States the superpower to be.
While many fled the revolutions, famines and economic hardships of Europe entered the United States though Ellis Island, those who crossed the Pacific entered though San Francisco and between 1910 and 1940, the Immigration Station on Angel Island became the major point of entry into the United States for hundreds of thousands of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Mexican, Indian and other Asian immigrants. The first Immigration Station in San Francisco was located on the Pacific Mail Steamship Company’s docks on the waterfront at the foot of Brannan Street. With the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Immigration Station had become inadequate and unsanitary.
In 1905, the Army ceded twenty acres of land on the north side of Angel Island to the US Labor and Commerce Department for a new immigration station. Opened in 1910, it quickly became the major point of entry for immigrants to the US west coast. During its thirty years of operation an estimated one million immigrants were processed at Angel Island. About 175,000 of these were Chinese. In the restored detention building, there are over 200 poems inscribed on the walls by Chinses immigrants. The immigration station closed in 1940 after a fire destroyed the administration building.
During WWII, the detention barracks was used as a POW camp by the Army. Angel Island was also a debarkation point for thousands of soldiers returning from the Pacific Theater. The earliest military facility on the island was Camp Reynolds, established in 1863 and the latest was a Nike missile site, established in 1954. There are also the remains of Fort McDowell and Batteries Ledyard and Drew. In 1891 a quarantine station was established at Ayala Cove, then known as Hospital Cove, facing Marin County.
In 1962, the military abandoned Angel Island for good and turned the island over to California State Parks in 1963. Many of the buildings deteriorated but some are still used as housing for State Parks employees. The island is accessible by boat or ferry. There rare several overnight campsites and overnight mooring is available on a first come/first served basis for a nominal fee. There is a cafe and a Visitor Center at Ayala Cove.
GETTING THERE: From San Francisco: The Blue and Gold Fleet offers ferry service to Angel Island hourly from San Francisco beginning at 9:45 am. Tickets are $9.75 each way. For more information place go to www.blueandgoldfleet.com or call them at (415) 705-8200
From Tiburon: The Angel Island Tiburon Ferry offers hourly service to Angel Island beginning at10:00 am. An adult round trip fare is $15.00. For schedules and more information please visit https://angelislandferry.com or call them at (415) 435-2131.