Traverse City State Hospital

From Asylum Projects
Jump to: navigation, search
Traverse City State Hospital
Opened 1885
Closed 1989
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Kirkbride Plan
Architect(s) Gordon W. Lloyd
Location Traverse City, MI
Alternate Names
  • Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane
  • Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital


Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane was established in 1885 as the demand for a third psychiatric hospital, in addition to those established in Kalamazoo and Pontiac, Michigan, began to grow. Lumber baron Perry Hannah, “the father of Traverse City,” used his political influence to secure its location in his home town. Under the supervision of prominent architect Gordon W. Lloyd, the first building, known as Building 50, was constructed with Victorian-Italianate? style according to the Kirkbride Plan.

Under Dr. James Decker Munson (1848-1929), the first superintendent from 1885 to 1924, the institution expanded. 12 housing cottages and 2 infirmaries were built between 1887 and 1903 to meet the specific needs of more male and female patients. The institution became the city’s largest employer and contributed to its growth.

Long before the advent of drug therapy in the 1950s, Dr. Munson was a firm believer in the “beauty is therapy” philosophy. Patients were treated through kindness, comfort, pleasantry, and exposure to the asylum’s plentiful arrangements of flora provided year round by its own greenhouses and the variety of trees Dr. Munson planted on the grounds. Restraints, such as the straitjacket were forbidden. Also, as part of the “work is therapy” philosophy, the asylum provided opportunities for patients to gain a sense of purpose through farming, furniture construction, fruit canning, and other trades that kept the institution fully self-sufficient.

While the hospital was established for the care of the mentally ill, its reach expanded during outbreaks of tuberculosis, epilepsy, typhoid, diphtheria, influenza, and polio. It also cared for the elderly, and was used to trained nurses. After Munson’s retirement, James Decker Munson Hospital was honorably established on the grounds in 1926, which was operated by the state well after his death and into the 1950s. It was then replaced by Munson Medical Center, the largest hospital in northern Michigan.

With the gradual success in drug therapies in the 1970s, many patients were cured and/or improved, leaving many of the buildings empty. This, in addition to changes in mental health care philosophy, the decline of institutionalization, and cuts in funding, the Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital was forced to shut down in 1989.

Starting in 2000, The Minervini Group began negotiating with the Grand Traverse Commons Redevelopment Corporation and secured an agreement to renovate the historic buildings. Their efforts have led to the gradual, but successful preservation and development of the Building 50 as part of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, offering an array of residential and commercial opportunities. By 2005, the southernmost wing and Hall 20 (Phase One) were fully completed and in use. The 100,000 square foot Mercato Phase of the former Building 50 is currently under reconstruction and will be occupied by Fall 2007. Also on the site, other buildings are being renovated for new uses. These include an urban winery, a fair trade coffee roaster, and a brick oven bakery that will all be open for Summer 2007.



  • Building 50 is the centerpiece of the former Northern Michigan Asylum (Traverse City State Hospital). Designed by Midwestern church architect Gordon Lloyd, this large mostly three story building was built on what is known as the "Kirkbride plan" of mental institution design for housing mental patients, which was popular in the 19th century. The detailing of this brick building is Victorian Italianate. With the exception of the change in the center section, Building 50 stands pretty much as it has since the 1910's. The non-matching connector section called the Fry Wing (on the south end) which was built in the 1930s was torn down in 2003. Building 50 was built of yellow-white brick which was cast at the Markham brickwords located in Greilickville, which is now a suburb to the northwest of Traverse City. A temporary rail line was used at one time to bring the bricks from the foundry to the construction site. The "cottages" were also constructed of this brick, as were a few other buildings including the two small root cellar/stables.

North Cottages

  • Cottage 21 (Building 21)
  • Cottage 23 (Building 23)
  • Cottage 25 (Museum)

South Cottages

  • Building 40 (Building 24/26)
  • Building 22 (Men's Dining Hall)
  • Building 28
  • Building 30
  • Building 32 (Constructed as TB Ward)
  • Building 34
  • Building 36 (Sunnyhill)

Images of Traverse City State Hospital

Main Image Gallery: Traverse City State Hospital



  • Angels in the Architecture: A Photographic Elegy to an American Asylum by Heidi Johnson. Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 2001. Search WorldCat for library copy
  • Beauty is Therapy : Memories of the Traverse City State Hospital by Kristen Hains & Earle Steele. Traverse City, MI : Denali, 2001. Free eBook from the Internet Archive
  • Northern Michigan Asylum : A History of the Traverse City State Hospital by William Decker. Traverse City, Mich. : Arbutus Press, 2010. Search WorldCat for library copy
  • Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Northern Asylum for the Insane at Traverse City, Michigan, from October 1, 1884, to the full completion of the work, November 10, 1886 : by authority by Northern Asylum for the Insane at Traverse City (Mich.). Lansing : Printed by Thorp & Godfrey, 1886. Free eBook from the Internet Archive
  • Traverse City State Hospital by Chris Miller. Charleston, SC : Arcadia Pub., 2005. Search WorldCat for library copy


Past News

From Ex-Mental Hospital to a New Mixed-Use Life