By Damon Peter Rallis
It's hard to imagine the Village of Greenport without Mitchell Park. It wasn't long ago, however, that the site of this magnificent harbor front park was nothing more than five acres of derelict land surrounded by a cyclone fence.
Old-timers remember the site during its heyday, when the Mitchell family, of Greenport, operated a hotel, restaurant and marina there for some 25 years, until it was destroyed by fire in the late 1970s. Although a new two-story bar/restaurant was opened and stood for nearly two more decades it quickly became apparent that the village had lost some of its charm when it lost the historic Mitchell building on that fateful October morning in 1978… until now.
Greenport's rich history has always been tied to the sea, but the decline of traditional maritime industries, such as fishing and shipbuilding, took its toll on the village.
Following years of property transfers and failed development attempts, the Mitchell Park project, spearheaded by former Mayor David E. Kapell, was underway. The revitalization that so many residents had dreamed of, fought over and worked so hard for, was right around the corner. Last year, the finishing touches were put on the Mitchell Park marina, the final phase of the project, ushering in a new era for the Village of Greenport.
By the early 1990s officials developed a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, and in 1996, Greenport held an architectural design competition to transform the site into what would be called “Mitchell Park.”
SHoP Architects was chosen from the competition for the park design, and the result is the Mitchell Park that you see today. The design has been called “magnetic” and “assertive,” managing to remain sensitive to Greenport's unique personality. It fits with the village's historic character, beckoning thousands of visitors each year to Greenport's many saltbox, Greek revival, and Victorian homes. But, aside from its sheer beauty, the park offers so much more than meets the eye.
The Antique Carousel is the focal point of the park. Built by the Herschell-Spillman Company in 1920 and donated to the village by the Northrop-Grumman Corporation in 1995, this working antique carousel is one of only a handful of carousels that still features a brass ring dispenser. The park's Amphitheater is connected to the harbor walk and is the site of band concerts, dances, theater productions and more. The Greenport Harbor Walk spans the entire park, connecting it to the village's transportation center on Third Street. A 60-slip transient marina is centrally located within walking distance of everything the village has to offer.
The Mitchell Park Ice Rink/Mist Walk is a child's winter dream, offering daily ice-skating in an open-air rink, in season, as well as other skating activities. In the summer, the ice rink area becomes a cooling mist walk. A Camera Obscura, a medieval optical device that projects a live image of the outside onto a round projection table in a dark (chamber?), is one of only a handful of camera obscuras in the world that are open to the public. The park also features a harbormaster's building, observation deck, and more.
Although aspects of the park have been in operation for some time, 2007 will be the first full-year of the completed park in operation. It took twelve years and three phases to bring it to fruition, but the “Crown Jewel” of the North Fork is complete and it has done what everyone expected it to do – revitalize beautiful downtown Greenport for generations to come!