The Newark Street Community Garden was established in 1975. The site of the garden was a rubble-strewn lot, which had formerly housed various government agencies, including the old Military Sealift Command, in temporary World War II-era buildings. In 1975, the property was under the jurisdiction of the DC Department of Recreation.
Anne Chase, now a resident of Tenleytown, was working with former Ward One Council Member Frank Smith on various food issues in the city and Smith brought her over to this site and discussed the idea of establishing a community garden. The inauguration day in 1975 had a group of prospective gardeners awaiting a plow from the Public Works Department to help in starting the various plots. The gardeners were joined by the late Polly Shackleton, Ward Three Council Member.
Chase was interviewed in 2004 about the start of the garden. She recalled the early gardeners’ great difficulties removing old construction debris and pipes from the site and then struggling to get anything to grow in soil saturated with clay. She described how the children of one gardening couple “came over to the garden regularly and pounded clods of clay with tomato paste cans to break up the soil.”
Most of the early gardeners were drawn from the McLean Gardens complex. Early outreach efforts included inviting girl scout troops in to learn about gardening and earn their merit badges. Chase recounted that before the water system was installed, gardeners would sneak into the laundry rooms at McLean Gardens to fill their watering cans! Since that beginning, our membership has grown to include DC residents from ten+ zip codes and we do have our own water system thanks to a considerable loan from an early gardener. Our water system has been negatively affected from time to time by the tapping of our system to provide water for the dog park (2008) and the construction required to provide water for recent improvements to the children’s playground (2014).
The garden has also benefited from the attention and interest by many members of the DC government. Phil Mendelson was an early member and the second president of the garden. As ANC Commissioner, Phil was instrumental in getting approval for the addition of the lower garden plots (1986) and as Council Chair, Phil has been a source of continuing support for the garden. During a 2004 anniversary celebration, Phil joined then-Ward Three Council Member Kathy Patterson and then-DC Department of Parks and Recreation Director Neil Albert in inaugurating the children’s garden. During the celebration, Director Albert promised as our landlord to let us use the space “rent free for the next 30 years.” Jim Graham, then-Ward One Council Member joined his colleagues that day for a tour of the garden.
Mary Cheh, now the Ward Three DC Council Member, helped garden members with the first Casey Tree plantings in 2007. Her pine tree is located just north of the Police Station wall. Phil and his daughter planted a redbud on that same day. Since that time, the Casey Tree project has involved planting more than 80 trees around the garden perimeter to add to DC’s tree canopy.
Since that 1975 beginning, the garden has grown and now contains 220 plots. Over these decades NSCGA has often been used as a community resource. When the police department was low on funds, gardeners volunteered to mow and plant flower beds on that property. When the Department of Parks and Recreation was low on funds, gardeners provided mowing services for all the users of the space (tennis court and children’s playground). Each growing season, NSCGA conducts monthly produce round-ups for contributions to S.O.M.E, (So Others Might Eat). The garden has also been the site for art students and is a resource for community service workdays for local high school students.