As we continue to research the historically and architecturally significant area South of Union Square, we uncover more important history that unfolded in the area every day. Recently, we discovered the presence of philanthropist, businessman, and Irish immigrant Andrew Carrigan, who helped transform the lives of Irish immigrants in New York in the 19th century, growing the community and its wealth, stability, and institutions.
Andrew Carrigan was born in 1804 in the northwest part of present-day Ireland and immigrated to New York between 1821 and 1822. Though Carrigan came here with very little, as many immigrants did at that time, he quickly found success in real estate and provisions dealing. He was able to retire in his fifties and spent the rest of his life devoted to philanthropy to help his fellow Irishmen, immigrants, and the cause of preserving the Union.
Carrigan saw two main problems facing immigrants in New York that he knew he could change. One was the uncertainty immigrants met when arriving on the shores of New York. Immigrants gave away their money or few worldly possessions to people waiting at the docks to take advantage of their often desperate positions. These swindlers offered promises of housing, jobs, and safety to the immigrants with no follow-through. To end this, Carrigan helped establish the New York Commission of Emigration, the immigrant processing center at Castle Clinton in 1855, which created a safe and closely regulated system for admitting immigrants to the city and country and getting them acculturated.
Once immigrants had settled in New York and began to make money, many banks took advantage of their naïveté, taking their money, claiming it had been lost, stolen, or never brought there. As president of the Irish Emigrant Society, Carrigan helped establish the Emigrant Savings Bank in 1850, which sought to protect immigrants’ money, allowing them to feel a sense of security, send money back to Ireland, or help bring more Irish over to the United States. The bank also collected tremendous amounts of genealogical records now held in the New York Public Library, which can help thousands of Irish-Americans trace their lineage back to Ireland. The Emigrant Savings Bank is the oldest Savings Bank in New York City, and until recently was the ninth-largest privately-owned bank in the United States.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Carrigan was the co-founder and Executive Committee member of the Irish Brigade. This Irish-American division served along with the Union Soldiers during the Civil War. The Irish fought bravely alongside American soldiers and suffered gruesome losses. In Gettysburg, one soldier wrote, “Irish blood and Irish bones cover that terrible field today…We are slaughtered like sheep,” Some Irishmen joined through loyalty to the cause; many joined to counteract the idea that Irishmen and immigrants were not and could not be American. Though their intentions may have been questioned, their resilience on the battlefield helped the North win many battles.
The last twenty years of Carrigan’s life were devoted to philanthropy, more of which you can see in the Irish history and Civil War tours. And Carrigan conducted most of this work from the area south of Union Square. In 1868, Andrew Carrigan purchased 68 Fifth Avenue. This three-story Greek Revival rowhouse was constructed in 1838. Carrigan spent his final years here, and according to the New York Times, “he literally ‘went about doing good.’”