HOW DID MURRAY HILL, KIP’S BAY & DUMBO GET THEIR NAMES?
Do you know Mr. Murray, of Murray Hill? Or Mr. Kip? Did he call his waterfront home Kip’s Bay? Get the backstory on how New York City’s waterfront neighborhoods got their funky names
By COURTNEY MIFSUD
Okay. Some are obvious, like the Navy Yard that is a navy yard. But the stories of how most of the neighborhoods where we live, work and play got their names offer an unexpected peek into New York City history.
This neighborhood was once the property of Robert Murray, a wealthy eighteenth century merchant who owned a mansion that sat atop a hill, at the intersection of what is now 33rd Street and Park Avenue. The Murray family referred to the location as Inclenberg Hill, but neighbors (perhaps envious of the Murray home) preferred Murray Hill. The family also owned a nearby farm which stretched from their home north to what is now 39th Street. The house burnt down in 1835, and the hill leveled to make way for urbanization, but the name stuck.
When the Dutch arrived in the 17th century and claimed New Amsterdam (now called New York), Jacobus Hendrickson Kip founded a farm that ran north of what is now 30th Street, and east to the river. The land was later developed, but Kip’s large stone house on Second Avenue and 35th Street stood until 1851, the last Manhattan farmhouse from the New Amsterdam era.
The Flatiron District
This zone, from 20th Street to 26th Street, is a relatively new addition to the Manhattan map, dating to 1902. That’s when the Fuller Construction Company completed the Flatiron Building on East 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue. The structure was supposed to be called the Fuller Building, after the owner, but because it was shaped like a triangle, a little like a clothing iron, New Yorkers dubbed it the Flatiron Building, and the surrounding area’s name followed suit.
In the 1600s, Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of “New Amsterdam” was worried about being attacked from the north by Native Americans and worse, the English. To protect his turf, Stuyvesant in 1653 ordered a 12-foot high wooden wall to be built that stretched from the Hudson to the East River. It didn’t work out so well. The adjacent thoroughfare — yes, Wall Street — was torn down once the English claimed the city and renamed it New York.
Originally home to the Lenape Native Americans, the 172-acre spit of land in the middle of Upper New York Bay Was so overrun with nut trees that Dutch settlers dubbed the island “Nooten Eylandt,” or nut island, when they arrived in the 1620’s. It wasn’t long before the Brits nabbed New Amsterdam for themselves, and a decree from the colonial assembly granted the island to “His Majestie’s Royal Governors.” In time, the name evolved to “The Governor’s Island” before simplifying further to its current incarnation.
Long Island City
In the mid 1850’s, Captain Levy Hayden, who was superintendent of the Marine railway in Hunter’s Point, predicted that Hunter’s Point would unite with two other nearby villages, Ravenswood and Astoria, slightly north, which was named for prominent fur merchant John Jacob Astor. Hayden proposed the new municipality should go by the name, “Long Island City.”
This is a pretty uncomplicated one. The Dutch purchased this Brooklyn bluff from the Native Americans in 1683. Taking note of the lush green trees covering the area, the settlers named it “Greenpoint.”
In the early 1800s, real estate investor Richard Woodhull, debated whether to buy this property and relied on the advice of a surveyor, Colonel Jonathan Williams (unrelated fact: Williams was Benjamin Franklin’s grandnephew). Woodhull was so happy with Williams’ work, he named his property “Williamsburgh.” The “h” was dropped, once the area, originally its own city, merged into Brooklyn in 1855.
In the late 1970s, artists unable to afford Manhattan rents flocked to the 30-block manufacturing zone on the Brooklyn side of the East River waterfront, between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. The new community suspected that real estate developers would eventually arrive in the area to buy and flip the zone’s buildings. To discourage them, a committee came up with a name that was unappealing as possible: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, or DUMBO.
The U.S. Navy used these piers and docks as an official yard from 1806 until 1966, crafting vessels like the USS Missouri, where the treaty that ended World War II was signed. But by 1987 the maritime companies were largely out of these docks, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation started diversifying its resident businesses. Today, the Navy Yard houses everything from The Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm to Steiner Studios, where films like “Trainwreck” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” were produced.
WHERE THE CREATIVE CLASS GOES TO WORK: THE BROOKLYN NAVY YARD, INDUSTRY CITY, BROOKLYN ARMY TERMINAL & THE NEWLY OPENED EMPIRE STORES