RPJ’s New York: Madison Cottage

The latest in a series of non-legal articles on the city we work in and love. 

RPJ’s “front yard,” the luminous Madison Square Park, is commonly assumed to be named for James Madison, co-author of the Federalist Papers and the fourth President of the United States.  The Virginian’s name is certainly ubiquitous in Manhattan;  Madison Square Park, Madison Square Garden and Madison Avenue dominate the Midtown map.  According to some histories, however, the Madison references derive not from the man himself but from Madison Cottage, a popular 19th Century roadhouse located on what is now the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street.

Madison Cottage, owned and operated by William “Corporal” Thompson after he purchased the property in 1841, was a favorite stopover for travelers between the populated lower Manhattan and the rural environs to the north of the island.  The roadhouse offered meals, rooms and entertainment, including boxing matches, cattle shows and cock fights.  Contemporary critics praised it as “one of the most agreeable spots for an afternoon’s lounge.” [1]  As the area developed, building pressures increased and in 1852, the roadhouse was demolished.  Today, the food emporium Eataly occupies the space where Madison Cottage once stood.

Since Corporal Thompson apparently chose the name as a tribute to President Madison, who had died in 1836, Madison Square Park retains an indirect connection to the Founding Father.  Nonetheless, given the neighborhood’s continuing love of food, drink and boutique lodging, it is appropriate that the Madison appellation honors a tavern and hotel, not a politician.

From the New York Public Library collection

[1] The New York Herald, as quoted in: Miller, Tom. “The Lost ‘Madison Cottage’ – Broadway and 23rd Street.” Daytonian in Manhattan, 07/01/17, http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2017/07/the-lost-madison-cottage-broadway-and.html.

By RPJ Partner Alice K. Jump, whose practice focuses in litigation and dispute resolution, employment, real estate and infrastructure law.