It's easy to forget that our present-day neighborhood is actually hundreds of years old. Beneath the buildings, parks, and streets stretching across Murray Hill lies a rich and varied past. A modern intersection could have been the site of a 19th century farm, a colonial merchant's store, or a British outpost during the Revolutionary War. Take a trip through time with us and learn a bit about the landscape where we work, live and play.
We'll be covering several major places of interest in Murray Hill- some of which still stand, and others which have been lost to history. For this week's post, we're going back to basics with the house that founded our neighborhood: the original Murray Hill Estate.
A sketch of the original mansion at Inclenberg, 1859.
Where it all began...
Robert Murray, a Quaker merchant hailing from County Armagh, Ireland, was the first to plant roots in the once wild and hilly area we call home today.
In 1762, Murray rented land from the city government to construct a manor and farm. The site: modern-day Park Avenue and East 36th Street. He named the property Inclenberg, and built his business and family there. The original 29-acre homestead was surrounded by verandas with panoramic views of the East River and Kips Bay, beginning roughly from the site of present-day 33rd Street to the south, and stretching up to where 39th Street runs today. The property grew wider from its southern border, and at its north end it spanned the land between contemporary Lexington and Fifth Avenues.
A British map of lower Manhattan, ca. 1776.
The actual topography and soil of Inclenberg was rough and poorly suited for farming. Most of Manhattan's land was still raw and unmodified during the 18th century. Picture the remnants of glacial till we still see in Central Park today: large mounds of rock jutting up haphazardly through mixed earth, and boulders densely packed into the soil. This was the norm across all of Murray Hill up until the early 19th century.
A glacial rock formation in Central Park. Murray Hill was originally dominated by hilly terrain that mixed soil with rocks like the one shown here.
Actually farming the soil around Inclenberg would have proven a tough task for Robert Murray and his family, and although they did grow some crops for commercial sale, their estate functioned mostly as a social and political tool. The Murrays leveraged their their status as a wealthy merchant family to host prominent guests and patronize local artists. Perched above a hill and overlooking the city limits, the manor was an attractive space for entertaining city officials and local elites.
Perhaps most famously, Mary Lindley Murray- wife of Robert- used their estate to host British generals during the battle of Kips Bay. As the story goes, the British officers were distracted by Mary Lindley's charming hospitality and stayed a while for tea and parlor room games, allowing a significant portion of General George Washington's troops to escape to safety at the Colonial Army's fortifications in the Harlem Heights.
An illustration of Mary Lindley's legendary tea party, date unknown.
A Word From Dan and Aaron
We hope you enjoyed the first entry of our series on Murray Hill's historic places. We plan to introduce several more places of interest in the coming weeks- some you may recognize, and others we hope will come as a surprise. If you have any feedback, questions, or want to share a piece of Murray Hill history with us, don't hesitate to reach out. We're always available via email, phone call, or text. We love hearing from you.
P.S. If you want to learn more about our great neighborhood's past but can't wait for our next blog post, we recommend visiting the history timeline on our website. Check it out here.