I always imagine hundreds of turtles sunning themselves on the rocks along the East River between 45th and 48th Streets.
That’s where the actual bay was once located in Colonial-era Manhattan, surrounded by meadows and hills, with a stream that emptied at the foot of today’s 47th Street.
Click on the map for a bigger view; it was drawn in 1878 to accompany a book about New York during the Revolutionary War.
But while turtles were plentiful in Manhattan (and made for a tasty meal), the name may come from a corrupted Dutch word.
“Some historians attribute the name to the turtle-filled creek, while others say it had nothing to do with turtles, that the name was more likely a corruption of the Dutch word “deutal” (a bent blade), which referred to the shape of the bay,” states the Turtle Bay Association.
“Regardless, the turtle feasts of the day prevailed and so did the name, Turtle Bay Farm.”
Not the Hudson, a site about the East River, has a more definitive answer.
“It was named after the Deutal (Dutch for “knife”) Bay farm, which originally covered 86 acres of land shaped like a knife blade. Also occupied by turtles, historians are unsure as to which one of these factors resulted in the name.”
The Beekman mansion—known as Mount Pleasant (left)—once stood at the northern end of Turtle Bay; it was demolished in the 1870s.
The United Nations occupies most of the site now.