ELLIS ISLAND, N.J. (AP) _ Abandoned and fallen into disuse for decades, a significant piece of American immigrant history is reopening on Ellis Island following extensive restoration.
Parts of the island were opened to the public in 1990, for the first time since the immigration complex was shut down in 1954, but few people have been able to explore the rest of the historic island, including 30 shuttered buildings closest to the neighboring island where the Statue of Liberty stands.
On Monday, the first of those buildings will be reopened, a development that historians say is long overdue.
``Every square inch has significance to American history,'' said Kenneth T. Jackson, a history professor at Columbia University.
The newly restored structure is the Ferry Building, where many new Americans caught rides off the island to begin their new lives after passing a maze of legal and health inspections.
``This was one of the happiest places on the island,'' said Elizabeth Jeffery, director of program development and administration for Save Ellis Island, the organization that helped spearhead the building's $6.4 million restoration.
Ellis Island was the gateway to America for more than 12 million immigrants. As many as 5,000 people passed through the processing center a day at its peak in the early 1900s.
Since the Immigration Museum opened in 1990, Ellis Island has been a major tourist destination in New York Harbor, drawing 1.7 million visitors last year.
Part of the reason the southern end of the 27.5-acre island remained untouched was that it wasn't clear who controlled the island _ New York or New Jersey. The U.S. Supreme Court settled that question in 1998, granting sovereignty over 22.5 acres to New Jersey, and the nonprofit Save Ellis Island began raising money for the restoration.
The Art Deco-style Ferry Building was constructed in 1934 as a Depression-era Works Projects Administration project, at a cost of $133,000.
Exterior work on the 5,500-square-foot structure _ including masonry repairs, a new roof and restoration of windows and the ornate lead-coated, copper cupola _ began in 2000, and renovations on the interior started last year.
The dark marble-like terrazzo floors has been patched and restored, and a new 180-pound bronze chandelier, a replica of the original, hangs in the central pavilion.
Money for the restoration came from the federal government, the state of New Jersey and private donations.
Workers for the National Park Service, which operates the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island National Monument, are finishing work on other buildings on the New Jersey side, including the island's hospital campus.
The park service will join Save Ellis Island on Monday to open a new exhibit in the Ferry Building, ``Future in the Balance: Immigrants, Public Health and Ellis Island's Hospitals.'' The exhibit explains the history of the hospital, told from the perspectives of the immigrant patients, doctors, nurses, military personnel and support staff who worked there from 1901 to 1954.
Other buildings will be opened gradually as money is raised for their restoration.
The long-term plan by the National Park Service and Save Ellis Island over the next decade is to create the Ellis Island Institute, an educational and cultural center with conference facilities.