Murray Hill, Manhattan, New York City
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Murray Hill is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan that extends south from 42nd Street to meet the neighborhood of Gramercy (or Rose Hill as the northern half of Gramercy is often referred to) at 29th Street. Blocks on Lexington Avenue around 28th Street is sometimes known as "Curry Hill", for the high concentration of Indian restaurants.
Its western border is at Fifth Avenue and eastern border now extends beyond Lexington Avenue, to meet the distinct waterfront neighborhoods of Kips Bay and Tudor City at Second Avenue.
Murray Hill derives its name from the Murray family, 18th-century Quaker merchants mainly concerned with shipping and overseas trade. Robert Murray (1721-1786), the family patriarch, was born in Pennsylvania and came to New York in 1753 after a short residence in North Carolina. He quickly established himself as a merchant, eventually owned more shipping tonnage than any other New Yorker. About 1762 rented land from the city for a great house and farm. His great house, which he named Inclenberg (or Belmont), but which was popularly termed Murray Hill, was built on a since-leveled hill at what is today Park Avenue and Thirty-Sixth Street. The great square house was approached by an avenue of mixed trees leading from the Boston Post Road; it was surrounded with verandahs, or "piazzas", on three sides and commanded views of the East River over Kip's Bay. The total area was just over 29 acres (117,000 m²). In today's terms, the farm began a few feet (metres) south of 33rd Street and extended north to the middle of the block between 38th and 39th Streets. At the southern end, the plot was rather narrow but at the northern end it went from approximately Lexington Avenue to a spot between Madison and Fifth Avenues.
The most illustrious member of the family was the oldest child, Lindley Murray (1745-1826). A New York lawyer, he was forced into exile after the Revolution as a loyalist, settling in York, England, where there was a Quaker community. In England, Lindley began writing school textbooks. He wrote 11 of them, beginning in 1798, and became the largest-selling author in the world in the first half of the nineteenth century. His textbooks were widely printed in Britain (particularly his English Grammar) but had their greatest success in the new United States, partly because no international copyright agreement existed and the books could be reprinted without royalties being paid. Some 16 million copies of Murray's books were sold in America and another 4 million in Britain. His most popular work was his English Reader, full of selections from the liberal-minded writers of the Scottish Enlightenment, most notably the Rev. Hugh Blair. Abraham Lincoln praised the "English Reader" as "the best schoolbook ever put in the hands of an American youth." The English Reader utterly dominated the American market for readers for over a generation from 1815 into the 1840s. It was replaced mainly by the McGuffey Readers, a series of reading texts, which began to appear in 1836.
Mary Lindley Murray is credited with delaying William Howe and his army during General Washington's retreat from New York in 1776. As the story goes, Mrs. Robert Murray invited the group to tea at her mansion in Inclenberg (now Murray Hill), and, through feminine wiles, succeeded in delaying the British troops for a period sufficient to allow a successful American retreat. Although a further British advance may have been disastrous for the Americans, the legends arising from the incident--with Mrs. Murray playing the role of Circe or a Siren--are probably apocryphal. Evidence suggests the delay at Murray Hill was according to a prearranged British plan.
The standard work on the Murray family is "The Murrays of Murray Hill" (Brooklyn: Urban History Press, 1998) by Charles Monaghan.
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