The fence post turtles adorning East 49th Street

Turtle Bay is one of the most enchantingly named neighborhoods in Manhattan.

But did colonial settlers give this swatch of East Midtown its name because of the plethora of turtles they saw in a creek that emptied into the East River?

Or is “turtle” an anglicized form of the Dutch word deutal, which means bent blade or knife—once the shape of the bay?

The truth is lost to the ages. But turtles are what inspired the designers of this iron fence along East 49th Street between Second and Third Avenues.

The fence keeps the riffraff away from these elegant townhouses, which are part of Turtle Bay Gardens, a collection of 19th century brownstones lining East 48th Street and East 49th Street that were restored in the 1920s.

The 20 houses are connected in the back by a shared secret garden modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome between East 48th and East 49th Streets (below in 1920).

These exclusive residences gave Turtle Bay cachet, and they become home to privacy-seeking celebrities like Katherine Hepburn, Bob Dylan, and Stephen Sondheim.

Most of us will never get a personal glimpse inside one of these beauties or the hidden garden. (Though real estate listings offer a peek inside the restored homes.)

But we can walk down East 49th Street and get a kick out of the turtle-adorned fence posts, which pay homage to the aquatic creatures the neighborhood may or may not be named for.

[Third and fourth images: Library of Congress]

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9 Responses to “The fence post turtles adorning East 49th Street”

  1. The fence post turtles adorning East 49th Street | Intellicooking Says:

    […] https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2018/07/09/the-fence-post-turtles-adorning-east-49th-street/ — Read on ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2018/07/09/the-fence-post-turtles-adorning-east-49th-street/ […]

  2. Geraldine Whittington Says:

    Not sure if you and Ted live in “Turtle Bay” but isn’t it an interesting story?

    On Mon, Jul 9, 2018 at 1:33 AM, Ephemeral New York wrote:

    > ephemeralnewyork posted: “Turtle Bay is one of the most enchantingly named > neighborhoods in Manhattan. But did colonial settlers give this swatch of > East Midtown its name because of the plethora of turtles they saw in a > creek that emptied into the East River? Or is “turtle” an a” >

  3. Ricky Says:

    Garson Kanin, writer, actor and director for broadway, film, and television and his wife Ruth Gordon, actor on stage and film and writer for stage and film lived next door to Katherine Hepburn. They were great friends and would visit each other by way of the secret garden.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Ruth Gordon…as in Minnie Castevet from Rosemary’s Baby? Wow!

    • Ricky Says:

      It was Hepburn, and screenwriters Gordon and Kanin who devised and wrote a part Judy Holliday in the Hepburn/Tracy film Adam’s Rib. This was so Miss Holliday could been seen/tested on the big screen and revive her starring role in the movie version of her hit broadway show Born Yesterday. Miss Holliday won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance. All this happened from an idea hatched in Turtle Bay.

  4. David H Lippman Says:

    Very handsome turtles.

    They make great pets, too.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      And very popular in soup in 18th and 19th century NYC!

      • David H Lippman Says:

        Well, yes, but I got permanently turned off to turtle soup by a scene in “The Last Emperor” where they are making turtle soup — and the turtle is ALIVE in the pot as the soup is being made. It was torture to me.

        A later scene shows the infant Emperor watching a small turtle cross the floor.

        Sorry…I just like turtles. They’re goofy animals. All reptiles and amphibians are goofy animals. I’ve had them as pets and still do.

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