Save Ellis Island, the nonprofit tasked with stabilizing and rehabilitating the historic hospital complex on the island’s south side, has advised that its “Hard Hat” tours will be temporarily suspended between New Year’s Day and January 29, 2023, for winter cleanup and minor infrastructure work.

The 90-minute tours will resume January 30, 2023, with six escorted tours a day, seven days a week. Tickets, which benefit SEI, can be purchased at Statue City Tours.

“While we wish we didn’t have to hit the pause button on these tours, we decided January would be the most appropriate month to undertake this necessary work to ensure the best Hard Hat tour experience for our guests,” said Janis Calella, president/CEO of Save Ellis Island.

The Hard Hat tour has drawn more than 210,000 visitors since opening day in 2014.

When the Hard Hat guided tours resume, people will enter the Ferry Terminal Building. This was SEI’s first restoration project, completed in 2007. The cost to restore the Ferry Building was $6.4 million. When first reopened, it included an exhibit of artifacts as well as educational programs hosted by Save Ellis Island. From there you travel through a series of interconnected corridors that lead you to the hospital complex. Consisting of 29 buildings spread over the island’s south side, the buildings can be seen from the Liberty State Park shoreline.

The hospital, which over the years treated an estimated 1.2 million immigrants, drew visiting physicians from around the U.S. and Europe to study diseases that immigrants brought with them to the New World, closed its doors in 1954. By then, New York hospitals had taken on the responsibility of caring for ailing immigrants and detainees, leaving the island’s medical facilities untended and exposed to the ravages of nature.

Next stop is the hospital Laundry Building, in which workers cleaned an average of  3,500 bedsheets, pillowcases, blankets, and gowns per day during its heyday, said Calella.

Visitors can also see the Recreation Beaux Arts Pavilion, where patients were encouraged by doctors to “take the air” as part of their recovery. The site offered spectacular views of the New Jersey and New York skyline. It was used by the Public Health Service and Coast Guard until the island’s closure in 1954.

At a cost of $1.2 million, artisans repaired and replaced bricks and ornamental terra cotta on an adjacent shelter, a hazmat team cleaned the building of contaminants, and contractors restored and upgraded the complex’s infrastructure and grounds. The labor allowed for the reopening of the Recreation Pavilion and Shelter in 2019.

There is no projected timetable — or budget — in place for undertaking the formidable task of rehabilitating the rest of the hospital complex. The vision is to restore the buildings one by one as fundraising provides and ultimately open the south side of the island to visitors from around the world.

In the interim, the focus is on the winter cleanup and minor fix-up work. Once that work is done, Calella said, “We will again welcome everyone to take part in these very personal tours’s. It like going back in time and stepping into the shoes of immigrants who are just entering the United States.”

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Ron Leir

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...