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Turtlegate – A Fable
By Pamela Bomser Stern

The history of our Turtle Bay neighborhood dates back to 1639 when the Dutch governor gave two Englishmen a land grant of forty acres crossed by a turtle-filled creek that emptied into a bay of the East River. The name, Turtle Bay Farm remained due in part to a preponderance of area turtles. The bay offered sailing ships sanctuary from storms and currents, subsequently becoming essential to the commerce of Manhattan. Shipbuilders established a thriving industry in Turtle Bay. Robert Fulton even tested his steamboat on the East River in 1808. The neighborhood changed with European settlers and the Revolutionary War. And so, we evolved with the rest of the country having our share of squalor, country squires and distinction. After the Civil War brownstones transformed the landscape as waves of immigrants moved in and the Second Avenue El was erected. By 1868, the beautiful bay was filled in, its earlier glory sullied by poverty and neglect. Finally, the El trains commenced operations and in 1946 the United Nations was built, thus transforming First Avenue into an international enclave of contemporary architecture.

As a result, we flourished with ambitious construction, restoration of brownstones, stylish townhouses and in due course became fashionable with the rich and famous. Along with our dramatic transformation there were also significant losses. Regrettably, the majority of our turtle population fled the neighborhood leaving an immeasurable gap in our community and hearts. It has been said (although we don’t know who actually said it) that eventually a prominent neighborhood leader contacted the FBTI (Federal Bureau of Turtle Investigation) hoping to unravel the baffling disappearance of the turtles. An in-depth inquiry into the matter revealed that we actually had small groups of low-profile turtles still thriving in our neighborhood. Many of these affluent senior turtles live comfortably in The Trump World Tower while the younger turtles wearing low-slung jeans and sporting tattoos, have been seen frequenting the Second Avenue bars. There continues to be a significant number of Starbucks sightings of turtles sipping lattes while reading the internationally celebrated Turtle Bay Newsletter. But for the most part the investigation discovered that the old-line, wealthy turtle families had moved out east to the Hamptons, while a recent article in Turtle Trends Magazine confirmed that the majority of young upwardly mobile turtles had moved to the trendy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

We look toward the future with hopes that our turtles will come home where they belong. Please join me in creating a more all-encompassing turtle and reptile friendly neighborhood. For further information on TBA’s “I Love Turtles” seminars and all other upcoming turtle events, please visit our website at


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The Turtle Bay Association is a nonprofit (501c3) community organization.

224 East 47th Street, New York City 10017
(212) 751-5465
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