Eight different organizations hold events to honor the Yalie, who stayed in New Haven and designed prolific parks such as Edgewood and East Rock.
Courtesy of Barbara Lamb
Donald Grant Mitchell’s legacy can be seen throughout New Haven, from his namesake Mitchell Library to the East Rock and Edgewood parks he designed. Although he is a relatively unknown figure, several local organizations ensure that his bicentenary celebration receives the attention it deserves.
Mitchell would have turned 200 on April 12. To commemorate the event, eight New Haven organizations, including the New Haven Museum, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and the New Haven Preservation Trust, hold various events in April and May as part of the Donald Grant Mitchell Bicentennial Committee.
“We at Yale and the library are very pleased to join such a large group of neighbors in celebrating Mitchell and frankly in celebrating New Haven,” said Michael Morand, director of communications at the Beinecke Library. “It really is a great example of neighborhood community partnership.”
The celebration began with a birthday party last week for Mitchell at the Mitchell Library branch of the New Haven Public Libraries. From April 11 to May 1, the Beinecke Library presents a pop-up exhibition on the mezzanine floor of select items from Yale’s Special Collections, including a photograph by Mitchell and drawings by Edgewood. On May 5, Yale history professor Jay Gitlin will give a presentation on Mitchell at the New Haven Museum.
Morand said Barbara Lamb, the former director of arts and cultural affairs for New Haven, contacted various organizations to organize the celebration. Morand said the Beineckes celebrated Mitchell’s birthday every year on social media, but all the organizations agreed a special celebration should be held for his 200th birthday.
Lamb said she first became interested in Mitchell when she researched and wrote about him as an undergraduate at the University of New Haven. The article was later published by the New Haven Museum and Lamb said she did a few presentations, but as she moved on to other things in her life she “kind of forgot about it”.
Lamb said it wasn’t until last December, while attending a meeting with the New Haven Preservation Trust, that someone brought up Mitchell’s 200th birthday this year. Lamb volunteered to organize the celebrations and began reaching out to various local organizations.
“The more people I talked to, the more I realized there were a lot of people who were interested in this guy, so it fell into place really quickly,” Lamb said.
Born in Norwich, Mitchell attended Yale University where he graduated valedictorian in 1841. While at Yale, he was a prolific contributor to Yale Literary Magazine. He then went to serve at the American consulate in Liverpool, England, during which he wrote extensively about his travels in Europe.
On his return from England he bought the farm which he called Edgewood – which would later become present Edgewood Park. According to the official site, Mitchell also worked with the New Haven Parks Commission, through which he planned and designed much of New Haven’s park system, including Edgewood Park, East Rock Park, Fort Hale Park, Bayview Park and others. Along with these parks, Mitchell also designed private gardens and parks in other cities.
Morand explained that Mitchell was also a cartographer who created large hand-drawn and hand-colored maps of New Haven’s spaces. Four of his maps are in the Beinecke Library, and Morand says the library plans to display these maps in May.
Besides being an urban farmer and landscaper, Gitlin mentioned how Mitchell was a prolific and popular writer in the 19th century.
“He really was a fascinating guy,” said Gitlin, who will discuss Mitchell’s legacy on the New Haven landscape during his keynote. “He kind of wanted to do it all.”
The Donald Grant Mitchell Papers at the Beinecke Library contains 15 boxes of material including original correspondence and manuscripts by Mitchell.