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Remembering Philly's "Ellis Island" and Enjoying Washington Avenue Pier

Posted on Tuesday, August 6, 2019

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What once was the third largest immigration port in the United States is today an urban gem with a park along the Delaware River

Located at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Columbus Boulevard, the Washington Avenue Immigration Station at Pier 53 operated from the 1870s to 1915 as an entry point and processing center for immigrants to the United States. Primarily from Eastern and Southern Europe, newcomers arrived here and then moved into the City of Brotherly Love, other parts of Pennsylvania and the United States. During its operation, more than 1 million immigrants took their first steps on a path towards citizenship in the United States in Philadelphia. In 1915, during World War I, the Washington Avenue Immigration Station was demolished. 

Washington Avenue Immigration Station, Pier 53 along the Delaware River (Photo Credit: DRWC)

In Summer 2014, Washington Avenue Pier at Pier 53 (also known as Washington Avenue Green) opened as a great park along the Delaware River. It is free and open to the public where you can take in great views of the Delaware River and celebrate the unique heritage of what was formerly the third largest immigration port in the United States.

Washington Avenue Pier

Washington Avenue Pier is an urban oasis that allows one to imagine what it may have been like for immigrants entering the United States for the first time. The park offers panoramic views of the Delaware River, Center City Philadelphia Skyline, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and Walt Whitman Bridge.

Washington Avenue Pier, Views of the Philadelphia Skyline and US Coast Guard Facility on the Delaware River

In addition, there is a walking path that enables visitors to reach the tip of the pier and touch the water. The signature part of Washington Avenue Pier is the “Land Buoy” sculpture which is an inspirational 55’ spire by artist Jody Pinto that allows visitors to climb a 16’ spiral staircase to a platform providing great photo opportunities.

Washington Avenue Pier Land Buoy

One of the coolest parts is a boardwalk elevated over the Delaware River that allows visitors to pass over a wetland ecosystem.

Washington Avenue Pier Boardwalk

Washington Avenue Pier is located adjacent to the U.S. Coast Guard Facility at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Columbus Boulevard.

Below is a great photo with a window back in time when Washington Avenue Pier was an active immigration station. To learn more about the fascinating history of Washington Avenue Pier (also known as Washington Avenue Green), click here.

Washington Avenue Immigration Station, Pier 53 along the Delaware River (Photo Credit: DRWC)

Insider Information

On The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia, we honor William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, who was born in London and an immigrant to America. The Constitutional also celebrates The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. The principles enshrined in The Declaration of Independence of "all men are created equal" and "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" helped shape the United States as a destination of choice for immigrants for more than 200 years.

Washington Avenue Pier is located just 1.7 miles away from the National Constitution Center where The Constitutional's tours start and end. It is about 1 36 minute walk, during which you can take in the sites with Race Street Pier, Cherry Street Pier, and Spruce Street Harbor Park. By car, it takes 10-15 minutes to make the 2.4 miles journey.

Washington Avenue Pier Entrance

Presidential Perspectives on Immigration

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment."
George Washington 

"America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts."
James Madison

“We came to America, either ourselves or in the persons of our ancestors, to better the ideals of men, to make them see finer things than they had seen before, to get rid of the things that divide and to make sure of the things that unite.”
Woodrow Wilson

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.”
John F. Kennedy

“Nearly all Americans have ancestors who braved the oceans – liberty-loving risk takers in search of an ideal – the largest voluntary migrations in recorded history… Immigration is not just a link to America’s past; it’s also a bridge to America’s future.”
George H.W. Bush

“More than any other nation on Earth, America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants. In each generation, they have proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, the most industrious of people. Bearing different memories, honoring different heritages, they have strengthened our economy, enriched our culture, renewed our promise of freedom and opportunity for all….”
Bill Clinton

“It says something about our country that people around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to America. Their talent and hard work and love of freedom have helped make America the leader of the world. And our generation will ensure that America remains a beacon of liberty and the most hope fill society this world has ever known.”
George W. Bush

Additional Information

Washington Avenue Pier (enter Washington Avenue Green into Google Maps for directions)
Columbus Boulevard & Washington Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19147

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