The land originally known as Inclenburg was not far removed from the wilderness in 1753, the year Robert Murray moved to New York City from Pennsylvania and took up residence at the corner of Queen (now Pearl) and Wall Streets. He owned Murray's Wharf at the foot of Wall Street and conducted an importing business. He also purchased from the City Council a large tract from the Common Lands of Inclenburg for a country estate. He and his wife, Mary Lindley Murray, called their new home Belmont. Murray Hill-as the estate quickly became known-extended roughly from what is now Madison to Lexington Avenues, and from 33rd to 39th Streets.
Although they were Quakers, the Murrays also upheld the traditions of wealthy New York society. They entertained frequently at their country home, where George Washington and other prominent Americans were guests.
Mary Murray's most famous "party" took place during the early days of the Revolutionary War. On September 15, 1776, the Battle of Manhattan began at Kips Bay, as five British warships surprised the untrained colonial troops under the command of General Putnam and Aaron Burr and sent them scattering northwest in disorderly retreat. British troops followed close behind, hurling insults at the undisciplined behavior of the Americans.
According to legend, Mary Murray invited the British commander General Sir William Howe and his men to rest at Belmont and enjoy a pot of tea. Their time spent in the company of Mrs. Murray and her charming daughters allowed the Americans to escape. The next day, they would triumph over the British in the Battle of Harlem Heights.
Mary Murray died in 1782, Robert in 1786, and land was eventually purchased by John Murray, Robert's younger brother and business partner, who had married Hannah Lindley, Mary's niece. John Murray's will dictated that the estate be divided by lot equally among his children.
The Murray Family Legacy: A Restrictive Covenant Belmont itself was destroyed by fire in 1834, just as the city plotted a regular street grid through the area and construction of the New York and Harlem Railroad blasted an open cut through the very heart of Murray Hill. The city's northward expansion had begun to threaten the Murray's residential paradise by the mid-19th century. Eleven descendants of John Murray, "owning several lots from the south side of 34th Street to the south side of 38th Street and from Madison to Lexington Avenues," registered with the City Surveyor on February 22, 1847, what became known as the Murray Hill Restriction.
In effect, the Restriction banned the use of the land for the building of anything other than a "brick or stone dwelling." Although exceptions could be made for private stables and carriage houses, as well as churches, such establishments as smith shops, breweries, and places for the exhibition of wild animals were expressly forbidden. Written into property deeds, the Murray Hill Restriction would be the bane of real estate developers for over a century.