Augustus Sherman was 27 years old in 1892, when he was hired by the Bureau of Immigration as a clerk at Ellis Island. The small island in the New York Harbor was the first American destination of millions of immigrants from all over the world, who had left their old lives behind to start over in the new world.

Sherman liked to photograph the immigrants, particularly in traditional costumes from their native countries. He had no training but the images he captured are among the most interesting records that survive from that time. During his tenure there, which lasted until his death in 1925, he took over 200 photographs.

Nothing more is known of Sherman. These beautiful pictures are his legacy.

Lapland children


A “prosperous family” of 14


Finnish immigrants


Bavarian man


Romanian woman


Ruthenians, Ellis Island, July 12, 1913.


1908 photograph of Johanna Dykhoff with her 11 children. Eleven children!


1905 photo of a Scottish family en route to Alabama


Cossack Immigrants


Dutch children (look at their shoes!)


Family of 15


Italian woman


Guadeloupean woman


German family


Dutch women


Dutch women


Cossack immigrant




This 1914 photograph includes an inscription “Hamberg” and specifies the subject is vegetarian.


Scottish Children


Two young ladies from the Netherlands


Ruthenian Woman


Slovakian woman with her children


Norwegian woman


“Male immigrant”


Girl from the Kochersberg region of Alsace


Protestant Dutch Woman


An 11-month-old 55 lb Russian baby

I visited San Mateo Museum of History on Saturday, and was impressed by how much it has to offer.

The museum’s diverse collection includes musical instruments, clothing, interactive displays, and a biotech and technology innovation exhibit, just to name a few. And I was very excited – even delighted? – to find some unusual turn-of-the-century artifacts.

With so much going on, there is some risk of creating a disconnected feeling, but the museum does a great job of pulling everything together to tell San Mateo County’s story.

Artist conception of the San Mateo County courthouse
1904 artist’s conception of the San Mateo County courthouse

The museum is housed in San Mateo County’s old courthouse.

Construction on the courthouse began in 1904. The large dome made of stained glass that would cover the courthouse was the most distinctive feature, but the building would be magnificent, regardless. However, residents of San Mateo County felt a deep connection to the courthouse than went beyond simply appreciating its beauty.

The San Francisco Call’s breathless description of the May 1904 groundbreaking ceremony provides a tiny window into their thoughts. It’s also a great illustration of how much times have changed. The paper reported that City officials declared a holiday, and the morning began with a parade, followed by a formal ceremony to lay the cornerstone. After several speeches and prayers, the residents enjoyed a barbecue “unrivaled in the history of the city”, while children sang patriotic songs. Later, the Redwood City Choral Society performed songs, such as “Laying the Cornerstone”, which I’m guessing was written for the occasion. Then, before departing to prepare for a celebratory ball that evening, the county residents sang “Auld Lang Syne” together.

Inside the 1904 dome
Inside the 1904 dome

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