The Upper East Side is now one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the city, but until the mid-1800s, much of the space was open to all. Sandwiched between Harlem Village to the north and the city to the south, most of what’s now the Upper East Side was considered Common Lands—property without an owner. At the beginning of the 19th century, the city began to parcel the land [PDF] for purchase and for rent, but these transactions were speculative, hopeful even, given that the lots were considered to be in the middle of nowhere.
When the area’s name was codified in 1896, “The Upper East Side Association of New-York City” took under its wings everything north and east of 40th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Fortieth Street was the southern border of the 19th Ward, an old city administrative subdivision, but the opening of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909 created a more natural boundary in 59th Street. Upper East Siders tend to be territorial, so it’s no surprise that three historic areas that defined the neighborhood have lingered on: Lenox Hill, Yorkville, and Carnegie Hill.
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