November 20, 2022

WAYBACK MACHINE: Where Was Corcoran's Roost?

James 'Paddy' Corcoran is a fabled character in pre‒Tudor City lore. He made his name during New York's Civil War Draft Riots ‒ as one of the profiteering rioters ‒ and went on to rule the neighborhood until the post-War prosperity of the 1870s over-ruled him. Now there is some new intelligence as to the actual location of where he lived.

Corcoran's Roost, as the house was known, was located at 317 E. 40th Street. He had squatted there around 1850 and over time, built it up ‒ the house was given a street number long after it was constructed. It was a plain brick structure, three stories high.

The New York Sun ran an article in October, 1891, entitled Corcoran and His Roost: A Favorite Hanging-out Place for the East Side Roughs. The reporter visited the site accompanied by a policeman; even in 1891, it was still a rough address. There the reporter met James's son, Tommy Corcoran, who, seeing the policeman, invited him inside.

He took the reporter though the house and showed him perhaps the filthiest, most rickety building that stands on Manhattan Island. The ceilings seemed to be trying to scrape acquaintance with the floors; the walls were dirty and cracked; everything was covered with filth; the only colors visible were dirty gray and dirty black; in every corner and cranny, the refuse of months had accumulated, while the odor from the stable and the stench from the yard mingled freely with the air in the rooms. Several of the rooms contained nothing but chairs, and looked like meeting places. . .
Here lives James Corcoran, the owner, his wife, his three sons, his two daughters and some of the men that work in the stable. The reporter saw Corcoran, but there was such a vicious look on his old face, and he looked so grim as he fingered an iron rod that the reporter decided against questioning him. Tommy evidently suspected something, for he pushed his father into a room and slammed the door shut. Then the reporter went out into the open air and left Tommy standing on the steps of Corcoran's Roost, scowling viciously. The policeman said:

"There's a pretty tough crowd that hangs out there. They don't do much besides 'rushing the growler' [getting drunk] and fighting amongst themselves. As long as they leave respectable people alone, it's best not to interfere with them. The sooner they all kill one another, the better it will be."


And there's a bonus, a drawing of Corcoran. It's not much of an image, but judge for yourself:


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Some time later, just before his death in 1900, Corcoran stated "I have been forty-eight years at that house," and we don't doubt him for a moment.

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