September 2, 2016

Wayback Machine: PADDY CORCORAN

No question, the most notorious resident of the future Tudor City area was the infamous James “Paddy” Corcoran, whose Rag Gang terrorized the neighborhood during the 1860s and '70s. Here is his life, in bullet points.

* Born in Ireland in 1819, Corcoran immigrates to America at the age of twenty-five. After stints in New Orleans and Cold Spring, NY, he lands in Manhattan in 1850 and gets a job as a trucker.  It doesn’t pay much, and he falls in with a colony of Irish and German squatters on Dutch Hill (as Prospect Hill was then known). The area’s a down-and-dirty slum dotted with primitive huts made out of boards and mud. So many goats, pigs, hens and dogs roam free that the land is also known as Goat Hill.
Dutch Hill, around 1855
* Corcoran quickly establishes himself as the leader of the colony after organizing the Rag Gang, a ragtag bunch of thieves. Dutch Hill/Goat Hill soon becomes known more ominously as Corcoran’s Roost. 

* Corcoran cements his reputation in 1863 during the Civil War Draft Riots, when mandated conscription laws result in a four-day free-for-all that remains the largest civil insurrection in American history. Targets of the rioters' wrath are the wealthy elite (who could buy exemption from military service for $300) and black people, scapegoated as the cause of  the Civil War. Violence erupts all over town. Near Dutch Hill, the Colored Orphan Asylum on 44th Street is ransacked and set afire. Random houses are looted. It's a dream come true for the Rag Gang, with scores of stolen goods stashed in Corcoran's Roost. 

* By 1880, the shanty colony is gone, replaced by brownstones and tenements built during the wave of prosperity following the Civil War. The area is now known by another name, the more genteel Prospect Hill. Corcoran decamps to a house nearby on 40th Street, where he lives until his death in 1900. He fathers ten children, four of which survive him.

The passage of time has been kind to Paddy Corcoran. His 1900 New York Times obituary downplayed his raucous past, describing him as a "champion of the Irish immigrant class" with a "caustic tongue and ready wit" who "always had his say at the station house."

Today, Corcoran lives on in Tudor City, immortalized in a stone carving over an archway at No.25 (right). The inscription reads And here in A.D. 1877 was Paddy Corcoran's Roost, finished with a rendering of Corcoran that looks more like a cuddly leprechaun than the master of mayhem that he really was. The geography is also a bit off; most accounts place Corcoran's Roost at the southwest corner of 40th Street and First Avenue.

1 comment:

  1. So very interesting! Thank you for this. We moved out of the Woodstock Tower (2 bedroom penthouse on 31st floor facing the East River and looking out over the other Tudor City buildings) in 1994 and it's great to read all this and learn more!

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