What remains of Manhattan’s Rose Hill enclave

While walking past the NYPD’s 17th Precinct on East 51st Street recently, I noticed that the front door listed all the nearby neighborhoods the precinct house served.

There was Turtle Bay, Kips Bay, Murray Hill, and Rose Hill. Rose Hill?

The East Side of Manhattan did once have a neighborhood called Rose Hill, taken from the name of a 131-acre farm purchased by a New Yorker named James Watts in 1747.

The epicenter of Rose Hill the farm was roughly at today’s Park Avenue and 29th Street.

Watts didn’t stay at Rose Hill very long. He was a Loyalist, and he left New York in the late 18th century, never to return.

A merchant named Nicholas Cruger was apparently the next occupant, and then it was the home of Revolutionary War general Horatio Gates (left).

But while the areas around the former Murray estate and Beekman mansion retained the names of the families who owned them, Rose Hill all but disappeared, swallowed up by the neighborhood in the east 20s and 30s rebranded as NoMad today.

Back when Manhattan north of 14th Street was the outskirts of the city, however, Rose Hill appeared to be a small but lively enclave.

The neighborhood’s boundaries generally stretched from 23rd to 32nd Streets and Third Avenue to Madison Avenue, per the AIA Guide to New York City.

In the early 19th century, Rose Hill was home to a “female seminary,” a five-acre botanic garden, and a boarding house-hotel for the wealthy.

A newspaper ad described the former farm as “peculiarly airy, pleasant, and healthful.”

By the mid-1800s, Rose Hill had been cut into parcels, subsumed into the city street grid.

A savings bank at Third Avenue and 21st Street, a hall for meetings, a hotel, and a couples of churches all popped up.

By the turn of the 20th century, however, the name seems to have been on the wane.

Today, few New Yorkers would know where it was—or they would confuse it with Rose Hill in the Bronx, home of Fordham University’s main campus.

But remnants of Manhattan’s Rose Hill still exist.

The Rose Hill Baptist Church remains on Lexington Avenue (above right), though now it’s the First Moravian Church (at right).

The Rose Hill Methodist Episcopal Church is also extant (above left). These days, it’s St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, located on 27th Street between Second and Third Avenues.

An iron gate in front of a pretty brownstone on East 31st Street keeps the Rose Hill name alive.

So does this plaque at the Roman Catholic Church of the Epiphany on Second Avenue and 22nd Street, which commemorates General Kosciuszko’s visit to Rose Hill to see his former commander, General Gates, in 1797.

Interestingly, “Rose Hill” is carved into the facade of a tenement on 14th Street near Second Avenue (top image). It’s a little south of the real Rose Hill, but perhaps the name inspired the tenement builder.

[Second image: The Evening Post, 1830; third image: Wikipedia; fourth image: MCNY, 1820, 29.100.3176; fifth image, MCNY, 1915,X2010.11.5361; sixth image, MCNY, 1975, 2013.3.1.653]

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20 Responses to “What remains of Manhattan’s Rose Hill enclave”

  1. Tom B Says:

    Very interesting story. Glad to see some ROSE HILL remnants still exist. It must of been very hard back then to choose between Loyalist or Revolutionist. Either one was putting everything you owned at risk. What a quiet lovely walk you have, 51st Street.

  2. Sally F Says:

    Great post, thanks!

  3. petey Says:

    yes, very interesting!

    i’m a customer at the Olde Print Shop and have been by that moravian church many times.

    thanks for the link to the book of churches and choirs. i was just skimming it and saw reference to a church at the corner of 86th and lex which is very long gone.

  4. The Hatching Cat (@HatchingCatNYC) Says:

    According to my research, the city also acquired part of the old Rose Hill Farm for expanding the Bellevue Establishment (hospital) in 1811.

  5. David H Lippman Says:

    I knew nothing about this…thank you for sharing it.

    I believe that neighborhood also has the monument to Mary Murray, and a plaque on the building where Secretary of War Henry Stimson lived.

  6. Clark W. Says:

    In reply to Tom B’s comment about choosing between Loyalists and Rebels during the American Revolution. For those who made calculated choices, the better bet in NYC was the Loyalist side. The city was a Loyalist stronghold that held out for the entire war. That’s one reason the British anchored their prison ships in Wallabout Bay (the Brooklyn Navy Yard). On these infamous ships, under horrible conditions, more than 11,000 American patriots died, far more than fell on the field of battle in the entire Revolution. Today, the bones of many of these patriots are in an ossuary in Fort Greene Park. After the war, when the death toll became known, Loyalists who had not left the city on Evacuation Day were threatened with reprisals. Many, like James Watts, left the city, and the U.S, never to return.

    • Tom B Says:

      Thanks Clark for explaining what happened back then. I didn’t know about the prison ships. There are so many lives that were lost through our history for freedom in the USA. IMO, this should be explained sometime in the school curriculum. Citizens will understand freedom sometimes comes with the ultimate price.

  7. Clark W. Says:

    A footnote to my previous message. It’s quite possible that Loyalist James Watts, original owner of Rose Hill, played a role in the English military thrust that drove G. Washington and the patriot army out of lower Manhattan in 1776. British troops landed at Turtle Bay on the East River, brushed aside American resistance, and headed straight for the west side, hoping to trap Washington. Their route across what is now midtown took them through Rose Hill. Did Watts lend a helping hand in this maneuver? If so, he came close to ending the war, in which case the neighborhood today might be known as Watts Hill.. Washington only escaped by a whisker.

    • David H Lippman Says:

      My English relatives were in that campaign. We have some laughs about how my ancestors fought in the American Revolution…but not on the same side as the DAR.

      • Clark W. Says:

        David… my wife is DAR, and has just asked the Committee of Safety to stop by your place for a visit. btw, several years ago, an old friend named Spencer, hearing I knew a little about genealogy, asked if I could track down a family rumor that her 4th g-grandfather had fought at Saratoga. Turned out that yes, he had. But for England! During the their trek to Boston, a number of British prisoners, including her ancestor, escaped into the forest. Sgt. Spencer wound up in New Hartford, CT, where local farmers gave him a job and fixed him up with a Yankee lass. War was less important than finding your daughter a husband. Thus was another “old New England dynasty” born.

      • David H Lippman Says:

        Clark, that was actually very common.

        The so-called “Hessians,” the German mercenaries that the British hired to fight in America, fought very badly. They never won a victory unless British troops were present, and most of them deserted as soon as they could. Many of those deserters actually joined up with the Americans. After the war, they stayed here rather than go home to grinding poverty and annoying families back in Germany, and married local girls, including native Americans and runaway or free black women, and either set up businesses in the cities, started farming, or pioneered the newly-acquired “Northwest Territory,” which we know as the Midwest.

        Many British troops did the same things, as a lot of the British soldiers were conscripts combed from the streets of England’s cities, which included convicts and vagrants, as well as youth who would get drunk in pubs with a recruiting sergeant and find a shilling at the bottom of their mug or in their teeth. Hence the term, “Taking the King’s Shilling.” After that, their soul belonged to Jesus, but their arse belonged to the Regimental Sergeant Major, who was one of the few professionals in the British Army of the time.

        That was because gentlemen could purchase officers’ commissions in the British Army (which only ended after the fiascoes of the Crimean War). Both Hessian and British Army regiments of the time were created by gentlemen who got contracts from the Crown, a and could then sell commissions in said regiment to finance it. The result was that the British Army sent to America was underpaid and underfed — earning less than chimney sweeps and sedan chair carriers back in London. That was why British soldiers took part-time jobs in Boston, annoying the local citizenry.

        After Yorktown, many of the British and Hessian troops did not go home, because of the factors I mentioned above, and in some British soldiers’ cases, out of the same of defeat. They just became Americans, and everything seems to have worked out well.

        There is a community just over the New York-New Jersey border at Mahwah, named Hillburn, which is populated by the descendants of the Germans who married black women. So you have black people with names like Van Heusen and Ostermueller living there. I would guess they lived there initially because the hills around the town kept mixed-race folks out of visibility from bigots. Now it’s just a charming little town on Route 17.

        As for the Committee of Safety…I’ll just say two words to them: “Meghan Markle.”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Very interesting Clark W; I hadn’t considered this.

  8. tipandjaminwonderland Says:

    Love this blog. Some of my favorite internet reading.

  9. Benjamin Feldman Says:

    Watts home apparently is extant: http://www.scoutingny.com/the-floating-farmhouse-on-east-29th-street/ It is one of the strangest structures in Manhattan

  10. Fallopia Tuba (@franklanguage) Says:

    When I saw the tenement in the photo at the top of your story, it was instantly familiar to me, but I’d never noticed the name “Rose Hill” before. I’m still in the neighborhood, and see it almost every day.

    Thank you for this blog; I love the trivial bits of history that would be forever lost if it weren’t for people like you!

  11. Rockefeller Center developer reveals first New York residential building | Real Estate Marketplace Says:

    […] 130-acre Rose Hill Farm estate purchased by James Watts in 1747. (Alas, Watts was a Loyalist and left the property not too long after though nods to the area’s old name can still be spotted around to this […]

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