Monday, September 13, 2010

Mitchell Park – for the Love of a Poodle

In the first years of the 20th century Morton and Elizabeth Mitchell bought a plot of land on S St. NW, at 23rd Street in Washington DC’s Kalorama neighborhood, equidistant between Massachusetts and Connecticut Avenues. Their property, located where the 1795 brick manor house of the vast Anthony Holmead estate once stood*, was to be the site of their new home. Their 14 year old poodle, named Bock, died soon after the Mitchells purchased the lot, and his remains were buried on their undeveloped property under a small stone.

Before construction of the house began, Morton Mitchell died, and Elizabeth eventually lost interest in the new house project. Upon her death in 1917, she deeded the land to the city for use as a park, with the stipulation that Bock’s grave be maintained undisturbed in perpetuity.

The will of Elizabeth Patterson Mitchell stated:
“To the City of Washington, D.C., I leave my lot on S Street to the memory of Morton Mitchell for a park. It was intended for our home, and our old dog, whose bones rest there, is not to be disturbed.”

Today, the land is called Mitchell Park. Bock’s grave, marked by a small bronze plaque on the side of a masonry ledge that surrounds a tree, lies in the middle of the children’s play area that borders Bancroft Street. When the park was given a major refurbishment in 2004, the plaque was moved from its home in the soil beneath a tree to its present location.

The portion of the park that fronts 23rd Street contains wild grasses, trees, pathways, picnic tables and long wooden park benches; adjacent to a small field house/recreation building is a children’s playground, and an open grassy field is located along the eastern perimeter of the park.

*In the early 20th century the land was owned by the German government, which planned to build an embassy on the property. To that end, they razed the Holmstead house in 1929, but before it could be built the U.S. government confiscated the land during World War II and annexed it to Mitchell Park. Thus, the park’s delineation is now 23rd Street to the west, S Street to the south, Bancroft Place to the north and Phelps Place to the east.

Trivia: The park’s steep hillside just below the tennis courts at the corner of S and 23rd Streets is reinforced with stones that contain interesting brachiopod shell fossils. Appalachian in origin, from the Oriskany sandstone formation, the stones were created by sediments deposited in the early Devonian period, slightly less than 400 million years ago.

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