Located 5 kilometres north of the Sydney central business district, Crows Nest sits on the northern perimeter of Sydney's lower north shore. Crows Nest is a significant commercial district which is noted for its variety of shops and restaurants. It is centred on the junction of five main roads about 1 kilometre north by northwest of the original site of Crows Nest House.
St Leonards is a close neighbour to Crows Nest, so close in fact that it is difficult to identify where one stops and the other stops apart from a line on a map. Of the two, St Leonards is more the commercial centre, whereas Crows Nest is predominantly retail. St Leonards has a commercial centre that complements the role of Chatswood, Lane Cove and North Sydney as one of the centres for business on theNorth Shore of Sydney. St Leonards contains one of Sydney's suburban skyscraper clusters, with major offices for many large companies.
St Leonards was named after English statesman Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney of St Leonards, after whom Sydney was also named. Originally, St Leonards applied to the whole area from the present suburb of North Sydney to Gore Hill. The township of St Leonards in 1883 is now North Sydney. The oldest railway station on the North Shore line opened in 1890 in St Leonards and originally only ran to Hornsby. The Gore Hill cemetery was established on the Pacific Highway in 1868 and was the main burial site for the area until its closure in 1975. It is still maintained as a heritage site by the Department of Local Government and Lands, Willoughby Municipal Council and the Heritage Council of New South Wales.
Transport: St Leonards railway station is on the North Shore, Northern and Western Line of the Sydney Trains network. The Pacific Highway is the major road through both suburbs.
Prior to European settlement, the lower north shore of Sydney was home to the Gorualgal in the east and Cammeraygal around the middle and north shore. The creeks, harbour inlets and mangroves made this an abundant and fertile land for these original inhabitants, but the original European settlers of Sydney found the land too rugged for agriculture or easy settlement.
Early settlers were mainly tree cutters, boat building, and some limited agriculture and orchards in areas of good soil. Crows Nest was originally part of a 524-acre land grant made to Edward Wollstonecraft in 1821. The grant extended from the site of the present day Crows Nest to Wollstonecraft. Edward Wollstonecraft built a cottage, the 'Crow's Nest' and, according to his business partner Alexander Berry, chose the name "on account of its elevated and commanding position". Berry later built a more substantial Crow's Nest House on the estate in 1850, taking the name of the earlier cottage. This site is now the building site of North Sydney Demonstration School and the gates of Crows Nest House (added in the 1880s) still stand at the Pacific Highway entrance to the school. Berry died at Crows Nest House on 30 November 1873.
Settlement of the North Shore was slow, and while the North Shore line was completed in the 1890s, active settlement of Crows Nest and the surrounding suburbs didn't really take off until after the completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932.