This past weekend I toured a beautiful, spacious, historical sight located in Traverse City, Michigan. When I was growing up the Northern Michigan Asylum / Traverse City State Hospital was still operational. Lack of funding eventually closed the facility and those remaining patients were turned out and onto the streets with nowhere to go, nowhere to live.
The 63-acre site and its buildings of beautiful architecture deteriorated and were almost destroyed. Word got out and those desirous of preserving such a beautiful historical location stepped in and renovations continue today. Now called The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, it is one of the largest historic preservation and adaptive reuse developments in the country.
Former historic buildings have been transformed into an indoor marketplace with a variety of gift shops, professional services, artwork, offices, eateries, condos, and a restaurant. The location is alive with activity. Outside there are walkways and lawns to explore on 480 aces of preserved land. The restoration of historic barns and a botanical garden are underway.
If you really want to learn about the history of this asylum for the mentally ill, take a guided tour. This two hour tour takes you into buildings that are in the process of being renovated and provides you with a vast amount of information regarding the lifestyle of those in residence there, the way they were treated, and how innovative this facility really was.
Our tour guide was very informative with a a great personality and sense of humor that was constantly wound into his presentation. You know you are in good hands when before the tour begins he announces that people should use the restroom and then says “sorry, its the mom in me”. The tour is two hours of walking, both inside and out.
The information provided is interesting and informative. Not only about the architecture and design of the buildings themselves, but also about Dr. Munson, who designed the facility, and his “Beauty is Therapy” theory on providing treatment for the patients. The facility was very innovative in that it treated patients as if they were thinking and feeling humans, not something to be thrown away. He gave them incentive and pride by providing them with jobs on the facility. Working in the kitchen, creating tile, woodworking, working on the dairy farm, and more. Residents enjoyed their lifestyle and took pride in their “home”, which is what the facility was to them. Furnishings were luxurious and comfortable, dining was on the equivalent of a fine restaurant with table clothes, fine china, and fresh flower center pieces.
The tour includes a short period of walking outside in which you learn about some of the buildings before proceeding inside. You will enter an non-renovated historic building, a renovation in process, and learn about the purpose in the way the architecture was designed, how the patients were housed, and then finish the tour with a walk through a brick steam tunnel built in 1883 and a visit to an area of The Commons where offices are located.
Once the tour is complete make sure you visit a few of the shops and eateries. Books, gifts, ornaments, T-shirts and more await the shopper. I purchased three books while there, Traverse City State Hospital is a pictorial history, Beauty in Therapy is a memoir, and Training School for Nurses is a guide of the training that nurses underwent to work at the Insane Asylum. I look forward to reading and learning more about this unique place.