Courtesy of Barbara Lamb

Donald Grant Mitchell’s legacy can be seen throughout New Haven, whether it is at his namesake Mitchell Library or at the East Rock and Edgewood parks that he designed. While he is a relatively unknown figure, several local organizations are making sure his bicentennial celebration gets the attention it deserves. 

Mitchell would have turned 200 on April 12. To commemorate the event, eight organizations across New Haven, including the New Haven Museum, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the New Haven Preservation Trust, are organizing various events throughout April and May as part of the Donald Grant Mitchell Bicentennial Committee.

“We are very excited at Yale and in the library to join with such a great set of neighbors to celebrate Mitchell and frankly to celebrate New Haven,” said Michael Morand, communications director at the Beinecke library. “It is really a great example of community neighborhood partnership.”

The celebration started 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 has a pop-up display on the mezzanine of some items from the special collections at Yale, including a photograph of Mitchell and drawings of Edgewood. On May 5, Yale history professor Jay Gitlin will be giving a presentation on Mitchell at the New Haven Museum. 

Morand said that Barbara Lamb, the former director of arts and cultural affairs for New Haven, had reached out to various organizations to organize the celebration. Morand said that the Beinecke had celebrated Mitchell’s birthday every year on social media, but all the organizations agreed that a special celebration should be held for his 200th birthday. 

Lamb said that she first got interested in Mitchell when she researched and wrote about him as an undergraduate at the University of New Haven. The paper was later published by the New Haven Museum and Lamb said she gave a few presentations, but as she moved on to other things in her life, she “kind of forgot about him.”

Lamb said that it was only this past December, as she was sitting in on a meeting with the New Haven Preservation Trust, that someone brought up how this year would be Mitchell’s 200th birthday. Lamb volunteered to organize the celebrations and started reaching out to various local organizations. 

“The more people I talked to, the more I realized that there are a lot of people that are interested in this guy, so it came together very quickly,” Lamb said.

Born in Norwich, Mitchell attended Yale University where he graduated as valedictorian of his class of 1841. During his time at Yale, he contributed prolifically to the Yale Literary Magazine. He later went to serve in the American consulate in Liverpool, England during which he wrote extensively about his European travels. 

Upon returning from England, he bought the farm he called Edgewood — which would later turn into the current Edgewood Park. According to the official website, Mitchell also went on to work with the New Haven Parks Commission, through which he planned and designed much of the New Haven Parks 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 as well. 

Morand explained that Mitchell was also a map-maker who created large hand-drawn and hand-colored maps of New Haven spaces. Four of his maps are at the Beinecke library and Morand says that the library hopes to show these maps this summer. 

Along with being an urban farmer and a landscape designer, Gitlin mentioned how Mitchell was a prolific and popular writer in the 19th century.  

“He was really a fascinating guy,” said Gitlin, who will be speaking about Mitchell’s legacy on the New Haven landscape during his talk. “He kind of wanted to do it all.” 

The Donald Grant Mitchell Papers at the Beinecke library hold 15 boxes of material comprising original correspondence and manuscripts by Mitchell. 

Correction, April 29: A former version of this article stated that Mitchell’s maps will be displayed in the Beinecke in May. It has since been corrected to note that the library hopes to display the maps, but there are no set plans yet.

Sai Rayala reports on Yale-New Haven relations. She previously covered climate and environmental efforts in New Haven. Originally from Powell, Ohio, she is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College majoring in History.