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William Bourke Cockran

Preserving a Piece of Sands Point History:

The Cockran Barns

By Betsy Silverstein

The Historic Landmark Preservation Commission of the Village of Sands Point recently designated its 12th local landmark: the Cockran Barns at 1 South Road in Harbor Acres.


The distinctive turn-of-the-century buildings were once part of “The Cedars,” the vast estate of Congressman William Bourke Cockran (1854 — 1923). Cockran purchased the 300-acre parcel in 1887. The complex includes the main house (formerly a horse barn) and a large cow barn that are connected by a breezeway that once sheltered sheep (a “hopple”). There is also a small house that served as an ice house and smokehouse and a shed that housed chickens and “Weaver” the bull.

W. Bourke Cockran was born in Ireland in 1854 and immigrated to the United States at the age of 17. He became a wealthy and prominent lawyer and a powerful congressman. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1886, 1890 and 1892, representing New York’s 12th District.

Cockran’s oratory skills were legendary, and he was referred to as the “silver-tongued orator of Tammany.” His style inspired Winston Churchill, who used it as a model to develop his own oratorical skills, according to Churchill’s memoir, Amid These Storms. (Cockran was a friend of Jennie Churchill, Winston’s mother.) A young Churchill visited Cockran in Sands Point. President Theodore Roosevelt was also a visitor.

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One of the largest landowners in Sands Point, Cockran was an active and generous participant in the Port Washington community. ln 1898, he spoke at the ceremony and celebration that welcomed the LIRR to Port Washington. Cockran donated land and money to build St. Peter of Alcantara church in 1901. It was modeled after the church in his childhood home of County Sligo.


Along with Congressman Frederick Hicks, Cockran spoke at the dedication of the cornerstone for Main Street School in 1908. ln 1911, when several large landowners in Sands Point tried to secede from School District No.4, Cockran represented the school district and won the case. Cockran died of a stroke in Washington, D.C. in 1923 at the age of 69. A number of eulogies were delivered in the House of Representatives, and his obituary appeared on the front page of the New York Times.


In 1927, Vincent Astor purchased the property. He retained 19 acres and transferred the rest to a realty corporation for the development of a planned community, Harbor Acres.

Originally published in the Journal of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society 2017/2018

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