In the late 19th and early 20th centuries drainage of marshland began in Reykjavík territory. The drained land was allocated for farming under leases with inheritance rights. Grassfields were cultivated on farms and smallholdings in these areas, where animal husbandry and agriculture were established. Such farms played an important role at that time, when dairy products were always in short supply in the growing town of Reykjavík.
With the expansion of Reykjavík during and after World War II, and the construction of new districts east of the old town, most of the farms made way for new housing, but in some cases the original farmhouses were integrated into the developments and remain standing among homes of a later period.
One such farm was Eskihlíð. The farmhouse buildings remain standing at the western end of the street of the same name. Watchmaker Magnús Benjamínsson (1853-1942) built a half-stone house here in 1892, which he named Eskihlíð (now Eskihlíð 2-4). Eskihlíð was at that time an alternative form of the placename Öskjuhlíð. The farmstead stood on the north side of the main road which led out of Reykjavík via Öskjuhlíð, known as the Hafnarfjörður Road, and later the Reykjanes Road (now Skógarhlíð). In the first half of the 20th century several houses were built to the south of the road, also known by the Eskihlíð name (Eskihlíð B, C and D). These are no longer standing. In 1911 Ingimundur Guðmundsson (1876-1912) lived at Eskihlíð, where he built a barn at the west wall of the farmhouse, and a cattleshed and stable at the north side. For many years Eskihlíð was a large farm, especially in the time of Geir Gunnar Gunnlaugsson (1902-1995), who bought the farm in 1934 and established a large dairy farm.
Geir extended and altered the old house and built new outhouses – a cattleshed and barn – at the north side. The buildings remain largely as they were in his time. In 1945 the inheritance rights to much of the estate were revoked, when development of the Hlíðar district began. Geir continued to run his dairy farm until the mid-1950s, while building up a new farm at Lundur in Kópavogur, where he moved in 1961. In 1959 the first Hagkaup store was opened by Pálmi Jónsson in the former Eskihlíð cattleshed. His company would later come to dominate the retail trade in Iceland. From 2003-2013 the old farm buildings housed the charity Fjölskylduhjálp Íslands (Family aid). In 2004 Konukot was established at the premises, charity that provides overnight accommodation for homeless women.
Text and photos: Reykjavík City Museum
See more at www.reykjavikcitymuseum.is