On the night of June 14, 1897, a disastrous fire broke out on Ellis Island. Fortunately, there were only 200 people there at the time. The buildings of pine went up in flames. The slate roof of the main building crashed in within an hour, and by dawn there was hardly a trace of the station. Congress immediately appropriated $600,000 to replace the lost structures with fireproof buildings. During the two-and-a-half years it took to rebuild the structures, the processing of immigrants was again conducted at the old Barge Office in Battery Park.
The new Main Building, still considered one of the few grand-scale brick buildings in New York, was composed of red brick with ironwork, limestone trim and concrete floors. Notable for its four cupola-style towers and the large, light and airy second-floor Registry Room, the Main Building was 338 feet long and 168 feet wide.
The new Ellis Island Immigration Station cost more than $1.5 million to complete and reopened on December 17, 1900. The new immigration station had one “oversight”. In planning the reconstruction, officials calculated that no more than a half -million immigrants a year would pass through New York on their way to new lives in America. This would prove to be a gross miscalculation.
As gracious as the new receiving station appeared, its insides were riddled with graft, corruption and cruelty for the next few years. Inspectors demanded bribes from immigrants who appeared to have money. Other inspectors would admit pretty young women on the condition that the women meet them later at a hotel. Railroad agents sold tickets at inflated prices. Immigrants were compelled to buy box lunches they didn’t want for many times their value. Employees at the Money Exchange lied about the exchange rates and pocketed the difference. Some American immigration inspectors were discovered issuing fake certificates of citizenship for a fee. In 1901, the situation was brought to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, and cleanup of Ellis Island began a month later with several senior officials being replaced.