The Curious Case of Marble Hill: A Neighborhood Caught Between Two Boroughs

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If there was a competition for NYC neighborhoods with the weirdest backstories, Marble Hill would definitely be a strong contender for the top prize. Read about Marble Hill’s neighborhood history below and then let me know which borough you think it should belong to.

Marble Hill Neighborhood History

Tiny by NYC standards, with around 10,000 residents confined to less than .2 square miles, the neighborhood of Marble Hill get its name from the deposits of marble in the land that it’s on. It’s a straightforward name. But what’s not straightforward is which New York City borough it belongs to. Marble Hill used to be a knob at the tip of Manhattan Island until ships needed easier access to get between the Harlem and the Hudson Rivers. So in 1895, the US Army Corps of Engineers created a canal that severed Marble Hill from the rest of Manhattan. For nearly two decades afterwards, Marble Hill existed as an island between the Spuyten Duyvil Creek and the Harlem River. Then in 1914, landfill was used to physically attach it to the Bronx, but oddly enough, Manhattan still considered the former island under its jurisdiction. 

Ever since then, the Bronx has been semi-serious about declaring Marble Hill as its own territory. In 1939, Bronx Borough President James J. Lyons orchestrated a publicity stunt where he declared the Bronx’s annexation of Marble Hill to his borough. The fifty Marble Hill residents who witnessed this event were unamused, booing the borough president who the New York Times lampooned as “Feuhrer Lyons.” (Adolf Hitler’s recent annexation of the Sudetenland was still fresh in their minds.) Tone deaf Lyons seemed unbothered by his stunt’s chilly reception from Marble Hill residents. He reportedly said, “Well, they didn’t like Lincoln for freeing the slaves.”

Ignoring the buffoonery of the borough president, there is a strong case for the Bronx claiming Marble Hill as its own. Marble Hill has a Bronx zip code and is served by Bronx police, fire, and sanitation departments. Some Marble Hill residents don’t even realize that they technically live in Manhattan until they look at their ballot for local elections and see that they have to cast a vote for Manhattan borough president instead of the Bronx counterpart.

In 1984, a Marble Hill resident famously protested her jury duty summons, claiming that didn’t she realize that she lived in Manhattan’s northernmost neighborhood; she thought she was a resident of the Bronx. State Supreme Court Justice Peter J. McQuillan looked into her claim and determined that Marble Hill belonged to… both Manhattan and the Bronx. Yeah, no one was satisfied with this wishy-washy copout conclusion, and in response, the New York State legislature formally declared that Marble Hill is indeed part of the borough of Manhattan and New York County.

Despite Marble Hill’s status being codified into law for nearly 40 years, there are still people who think Marble Hill’s current geography outweighs its historical ties. This has resulted in the annual Marble Hill Annexation by the “The Great and Glorious Grand Army of The Bronx.” Despite dressing up in battle gear and reenacting the 1939 antics of James Lyons, the Grand Army’s real goal is to teach people about local history, geography, and civics in a fun, light-hearted way. But I wouldn’t blame the Bronx if it ever were to stake a serious claim for Marble Hill.

Based on Marble Hill neighborhood history and geography, which NYC borough do you think it should belong to: Manhattan or the Bronx? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

But before you go, if you liked this recounting of Marble Hill’s neighborhood history and you like what I do here at Shiloh in the City and want to continue getting to know New York’s history, culture, and things to do with me, sign up for my email list and follow me on social media. Thanks for reading!

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