Mitchell and the New Haven Parks System

Donald Grant Mitchell was responsible for much of the layout and design of many of New Haven’s early parks, East Rock and Edgewood being the most well-known and most reflective of his distinctive natural designs. Interest in urban parks during the mid-1900s was spurred by the creation of Central Park in New York City, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and opened in 1859.

East Rock Park

1882 Map of East Rock Park in New Haven CT
NHM orig

East Rock Park is the crown jewel in the New Haven Parks system. In 1880 East Rock Park was established by an Act of the State Legislature. Of the initial 353 acres, 87 were donated Yale College, John W. Bishop and 5 other donors. The remaining acreage was purchased by the city. A Board of Commissioners was appointed in charge of its development and Donald Grant Mitchell was engaged, drawing up a plan for “the harmonious development” of the new park. His report to the Parks Commissioners in 1882 was accompanied by maps and drawings of his suggestions. The New Haven Museum’s Whitney Library holds a multiple page hand-written list of the shrubs and plantings that he recommended.

For an account of Donald Grant Mitchell’s role in the design of New Haven’s East Rock Park and some early images, see “The Connecticut Landscape Architect”, Fall Issue 2014, page 24-26, “East Rock Park, A Designed Historic Landscape”, by Channing Harris, ASLA. CTLA Fall 2014 (anyflip.com)

“The bold picturesqueness of the site does not invite the niceties of conventional gardening. Beside those ragged reaches of precipice, and the skirting forest, little fetches of garden craft would be impertinences … I have tried to subordinate the walks and roads and plantings to the grander features of interest, under the conviction that the things best worth seeing there will always be the rocks and woods and views as nature has shaped them.”

Donald G. Mitchell, LL.D.
Report to the Commissioners on Layout of East Rock Park, 1882

Edgewood Park

1903

In 1899 the City decided that more open parkland was needed on the west side of town in the area where Mitchell’s Edgewood farm was situated. Mitchell and others donated land along the West River and the Court of Common Council requested him to help lay out the Park in the area between Whalley Avenue and west Chapel Street. It was also during this time that the council authorized the issuance of $200,000 in bonding to be put toward the expansion of the new parks system.

Mitchell took on the task of designing the entrance to the new “Edgewood” Park, named in honor of his own nearby farm. The plans included a redesign of what became “Edgewood” Avenue. The old Alms House which had been situated in the area was relocated and the land became available to be part of the new park.