Traverse City State Hospital

The Traverse City State Hospital, also known as the Northern Michigan Asylum and the Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital at different times in its history, is a closed psychiatric facility in Traverse City, Michigan.

The Traverse City State Hospital, also known as the Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane and the Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital at different times in its history, is a closed psychiatric facility in Traverse City, Michigan.



On June 16, 1881, Governor David Jerome appointed a Board of Commissioners comprising Hon. Perry Hannah of Traverse City, Hon. M.H. Dader of Mt. Clemens, and Dr. E.H. Van Deusen of Kalamazoo. 7 21 Their task was to choose a suitable location for a state mental hospital in northern Michigan. After considering various communities like Cadillac, Big Rapids, and Lake City, Traverse City was selected on November 4 due to its ample land and clean water supply. 22

Construction of the Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane commenced in 1882 with the clearing of trees, requiring the blasting and removal of stumps. 7 23 Nine-million bricks from the Markham Brickyards in Cedar Lake and Greilickville were transported via a narrow-gauge railroad to the construction site. 3 3a 4 7 Mules were employed to haul the heavy brick loads along the tracks. 7 Bentley & Nowlan of Milwaukee were awarded the overall construction contract, with Far & Avery of Detroit securing the contract for brick construction. 23

In May 1883, Superintendent Wells raised concerns about the contractors’ deviations from the architectural plans, which led to Bentley & Nowlan relinquishing claims against the state on July 4. 15 Authorization was granted in December 1883 to draft plans for gas piping, plumbing, and water distribution, along with plans to equip facilities like the laundry and kitchen.

On December 5, the superintendent received authorization to draft plans for installing gas piping to facilitate lighting and heating in the hospital, as well as plumbing and water distribution. 15 Additionally, plans were made to equip the laundry, kitchen, and workshop facilities. Subsequently, an investigation into electric lighting commenced on April 2, 1884, prompted by proposals from the Edison Electric Light Company and the United States Electric Light Company. This led to discussions regarding the durability of electric lighting and potential safety concerns, with some skeptical individuals viewing electricity as merely a passing trend. Eventually, these doubts were overcome, and electric lighting was favored over gas during a meeting on September 29. 19

Around this time, roofing decisions were finalized. It was determined that a slate roof would be the most suitable option. 15 Samples were requested from quarries in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Maine, and on April 2, 1884, slate from Michigan quarries was selected and purchased. (The original slate tiles were replaced with conventional materials in the early 1950s because of falling ice concerns.)

In early 1885, decisions were finalized regarding furnishings for 500 patients and 50 attendants, distributed across 625 halls and rooms, which included 18 dining rooms. 19 This involved procuring various items such as all-wool blankets from Hamilton & Milliken for $2.50 per pair, sets of pillowcases from Detroit, counterpanes from Marshall Field & Company of Chicago priced at 85¢ each, and plates from Rogers Bros., among other items.

The inaugural building, later known as Building 50, was constructed in the Victorian-Italianate style under the supervision of architect Gordon W. Lloyd. 2 22 The hospital’s ventilation system, designed despite limited understanding of germ theory, involved fans pushing air through underground tunnels into the basement, then distributed through flues in the building. 26

Electric lighting was activated in a section of the hospital for the first time on November 24, 1885. 21 A public reception was held on November 28, attended by 1200 individuals. On November 30, the first patient arrived at the asylum at 10:45 am. Simultaneously, 43 patients departed from the Eastern Michigan Asylum in Pontiac at 6:05 am, journeying by train and reaching Traverse City around 4 pm. They were accompanied by 13 hospital personnel from Pontiac. By the year’s end, the hospital was caring for 492 patients. 17

The asylum was designed under the Kirkbridge Plan, a mental asylum design philosophy developed by psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride in the mid-19th century. It aimed to provide a humane and therapeutic environment for treating mental illness. The plan typically featured a central administration building flanked by wings extending outward, forming a staggered or echelon layout. This layout allowed for ample natural light and ventilation in patient rooms, corridors, and common areas. The design emphasized the separation of different patient populations by gender, diagnosis, and severity of illness, as well as the incorporation of expansive grounds for recreational and occupational therapy.

On August 2, 1911, the term “asylum” ceased to be used at Michigan’s state hospitals, and the institution formerly known as the Northern Michigan Asylum was renamed the Traverse City State Hospital. 31 The decision to discontinue using the word “asylum” stemmed from its perceived harshness. This term had acquired negative connotations over time, associated with outdated and stigmatized practices in mental health care. By adopting a new name, the institution aimed to reflect a shift towards more progressive and compassionate approaches to mental health treatment.

The hospital was renamed again in 1978, becoming the Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital. 32


Under the leadership of Dr. James Decker Munson, who served as the first superintendent from 1885 to 1924, the institution underwent significant expansion. 3 Rather than extending wings to the original hospital, which had become less favored due to the Kirkbride Plan’s decline, the cottages were constructed. The ground was broken in 1900 for new cottages, the first of which were opened in 1902. 18 The southern cottages housed male patients, while the northern cottages housed female patients. Two infirmaries were built for tuberculosis (Cottage 19) and polio (Cottage 20) patients.

A nursing school was established in 1907, and the first class of 24 students graduated on June 8, 1908. 14 A dormitory for the nurses, Building 42, was built on Elmwood Avenue in 1938. 33

In 1924, the Munson General Hospital was constructed on the northern edge of the property and portions of the original front lawn. 27 It was operated as part of the state hospital system until 1945 when the state relinquished the property to the county. 14

In 1951, the state hospital initiated a training program and obtained approval for a three-year physician residency program. 5 Additionally, it received accreditation for a registered nurse (R.N.) and practical nurses training program and approval for training chaplains, psychologists, and social workers. In 1959, the facility was approved for three years of psychiatric residency training. 13

In 1957, discussions commenced regarding the construction of a chapel. 10 This led to the formation of an All-Faiths Chapel Fund Committee, which initiated fundraising campaigns across the 39 counties served by the hospital. Over 10,000 individuals contributed to the fund. Ground was broken for the new $330,000 12 All-Faiths Chapel, Building 43, on August 25, 1964, and it commenced serving patients in May 1965. 10 Every Sunday, the chapel welcomed over 700 patients for worship services.

By 1964, Traverse City State Hospital boasted 3,000 patients. 7

BuildingHistoric UsePresent UseBuiltDemolished
50Administrative offices, patient rooms.Residences, shops, restaurants.1885Center removed 1962
50aAdministrative officesShops, restaurants.1962
50nWomen’s patient rooms.Residences, shops, restaurants.1885
50sMen’s patient rooms.Residences, shops, restaurants.1885
21Women’s CottageEvergreen Cottage1901
22Men’s Dining Hall/AuditoriumVacant
23Women’s CottageEvergreen Cottage1904
25Women’s CottageWillow Cottage1892
27Women’s Cottage“Hospitality House” for the hospital.
29Women’s Cottage
30Men’s CottageVacant1904
32Men’s CottageVacant1892
33Replaced with The Pavilions.c. 1999
34Men’s Cottage1904
35Replaced with The Pavilions.c. 1999
36Men’s Cottage1906
37Replaced with The Pavilions.c. 1999
37aReplaced with The Pavilions.c. 1999
39Replaced with The Pavilions.c. 1999
40Men’s CottageVacant1898
41Replaced with The Pavilions.c. 1999
42Nurses’ DormitoryState office building.1938
43All Faiths ChapelWomen’s Resource Center, Cooperative Preschool1963
46Arnell Engstrom Children’s CenterSchool administrative offices, school.1970
53Left Foot Charlies, Higher Grounds
61Upholstery Shop
62Root Cellar1886
63Root Cellar1886
66Pleasanton Bakery1970
67Underground Cheesecake Factory Baking Building
69Underground Cheesecake Factory Store and Cafe
74Water Tank
79HousePrivate Residence
80House“Helens House,” a women’s resource center.
81HousePrivate Residence
82Gray HousePrivate Residence1931
88White House; Munson HospitalProfessional office.1885
88cRichmond Architects
204Catedral Barn
208Milk House
222Horse Barn / Garage
223Auto Repair Garage
226Granary / Root Cellar
228Bus Garage


“Beauty is Therapy”

In 1901, efforts were directed toward enhancing the appearance of the grounds at the Northern Michigan Asylum. 16 Munson proposed a careful yet thorough trimming and thinning of trees surrounding the North Cottages. This initiative aimed to accentuate the buildings’ prominence while promoting the healthier and more graceful growth of the remaining trees.

Munson adhered to the “Beauty is Therapy” philosophy, the belief in the therapeutic value of beauty, where psychiatric treatment emphasized comfort, kindness, and enjoyment. 16 26 To this end, the asylum’s greenhouses supplied flowers year-round, and the hospital grounds boasted lush landscaping with various trees planted by Munson himself. His administration prohibited restrictions like straitjackets except for the most extreme of circumstances. Meals at the hospital were served in dining halls on fine china glazed with the State Seal atop white linen tablecloths, with fresh flowers and plants adorning tables and resting areas. 26 Artwork adorned the walls of the hallways.

“Work is Therapy”

Farming operations were integral to the hospital complex, providing therapeutic employment for able-bodied patients and supplying the facility with food. 27 In December 1885, the asylum began farming by acquiring its initial livestock–cows, chickens, pigs, and horses–along with sewing machines, belting, brushes, and related equipment. 19 Extensive land was cultivated for various crops, and orchards were established for apples, peaches, and cherries. 20 27

For 1901, the farm was yielding significant produce, including 7,000 bushels of potatoes, 957 bushels of table beets, 4,605 bushels of mangels (beets for cattle), 3,307 bushels of turnips and bagas, 30 tons of pumpkins and squash, 479 bushels of onions, 2,000 bushels of parsnips, 20,000 heads of cabbage, and 12,000 heads of celery. 20 Additionally, it produced a substantial quantity of fruit and rhubarb. The farm also maintained a flock of 1,000 chickens for egg production.

The most distinguished farm animal was “Colantha,” a Grand Champion cow who yielded 200,114 pounds of milk and 7,525 pounds of butterfat throughout her tenure on the hospital grounds. 27 Following her passing, her burial was commemorated with a gravestone located at the south end of Red Drive.

Patients could also work in different shops, performing tasks such as sewing garments or constructing furniture.


In 1925, an Outpatient Clinic was established at the state hospital, providing diagnostic, treatment, and consultation services for psychiatric problems of adults. 6

In 1968, the state of Michigan approved the construction of Arnell Engstrom School, a children’s treatment unit, on the farm site. 5 11 25 27 The local architectural firm of Field Graheck Bell & Cline designed the complex, which was constructed by the Omega Constructing Company of Grand Rapids.

In February 1961, a Special Education Program was initiated, utilizing classrooms situated in a renovated section of the Receiving Hospital. 9 Initially designed to accommodate 12 students, the program quickly expanded to serve 58 students. Its curriculum spanned from the first to the tenth grade.

Following Munson’s retirement, the James Decker Munson Hospital was inaugurated on the premises in 1915 in his honor. 5 In 1959, the Grand Traverse Medical Care Facility was added, an 181-bed county-operated facility offering skilled, professional care.


Amendments to labor laws, rising labor costs, a lack of patient help, and other circumstances led to the closure of the state hospital farm in 1957. 18 The land was later reused to grow starter trees that could be planted around the hospital campus. 16 However, the rebranded Work Activity Center persisted, resulting from collaboration between the local industry and the hospital. 5 The objective shifted from producing finished goods to engaging in simple procedures that contributed to treatment while not significantly impacting the external labor market. The program aimed to help patients alleviate anxiety and adjust to regular hours and production schedules. The Work Activity Center was rebranded as the Sheltered Workshop in 1967. 8

During the 1960s, the process of deinstitutionalization gained momentum. 1 This movement aimed to transition from long-term psychiatric hospitals to community mental health services. It was fueled by a socio-political push for community-based care, the concept of open hospitals, advancements in psychotropic medications, and financial considerations. Traverse City State Hospital experienced a gradual reduction in its resident population through the release of stabilized patients, shorter inpatient stays, and decreased admission and readmission rates. Various programs were introduced to diminish reliance on institutionalization, alleviate hopelessness, and address other maladaptive behaviors.

While some individuals experienced relief with emotion-controlling medications, the decrease in state hospital services resulted in individuals with aggressive or violent tendencies, as well as those unwilling to take medication, needing long-term psychiatric care. 25 However, community-based facilities or hospitals not originally designed or equipped for such purposes were now tasked with accommodating these individuals. A rise in homelessness and vagrancy was noted.

A report from 1971 highlighted that the state hospital maintained a staff of 34 doctors and dentists, comprising a total workforce of 1,070 employees. 5 This workforce contributed $8.5 million annually to the local economy. However, with its patient population dwindling, the cottages and Building 50, except modern Building 50A in the center, were vacant by 1973. 27 The patient population by 1975 was just 600 individuals, with 150 of them residing in Family Care or Community Living arrangements. 7

In February 1988, the state Department of Mental Health announced the closure of Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital. 25 At that point, the patient population had declined to just 140. 27 By June, there were just 88 patients and 250 employees. 25 It formally closed in 1989, leaving just the 50-bed Arnell Engstrom School for children remaining.


In 1978, the state hospital campus, comprising 11 buildings, was officially designated as a state historic district and added to the National Register of Historic Places. 27 However, in 1980, when the state of Michigan proposed demolishing several campus buildings, the Charter Township of Garfield and the City of Traverse City formed The Coalition for Logical Land Use. This coalition was tasked with devising a plan to repurpose the hospital buildings and initiating legal action to halt the demolition.

Following an attempt by a demolition crew to tear down one of the buildings, local advocates physically intervened, temporarily halting the demolition. 27 Subsequent efforts by the state to remove buildings led to adopting the Adaptive Reuse Feasibility Plan for the Traverse City State Hospital in 1990. This plan recommended acquiring, preserving, restoring, and redeveloping the hospital property. After securing legislative changes at the state level, local officials established the Grand Traverse Commons Redevelopment Corporation (GTCRC) under Michigan’s Urban Redevelopment Corporation Act.

In 1992, the State of Michigan agreed to sell substantial portions of the property to the GTCRC for a nominal fee of $1.00. 27 The GTCRC and city and township officials approved plans to demolish several non-historic buildings to make space for a parking deck and a new long-term nursing care facility. That same year, the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District purchased, renovated, and expanded the Arnell Engstrom School, now serving as administrative offices and the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District Building. Additionally, Grand Traverse County acquired several large parcels, including portions of the former farm, its historic barns, and several non-historic houses, holding onto the property until funds could be raised for its continued public ownership to serve as a park.

In December 1992, the GTCRC selected Kids Creek Development Company to serve as the master planner and developer of the Grand Traverse Commons. 27 This company launched significant efforts to develop a new Master Plan for the property, which was ultimately endorsed by the City and Township in 1994.

Finally, in 1993, the state sold the former Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital property to the GTCRC. 27

In June 1998, a liquidation sale of hospital belongings took place. 24 This sale featured furniture, dining utensils, an antique tabletop model of an electroshock therapy machine, a portable electrocardiograph, vintage leather restraints, heated stainless steel cabinets resembling coffins used in treating general paralysis caused by syphilis, and a human skeleton utilized for educational purposes. The proceeds from the sale were directed to the GTCRC.

In 2001, the Minervini Group presented a redevelopment plan for the former hospital campus, which was deemed acceptable by the community and GTCRC. 27 Following a year-long feasibility study, Minervini undertook the re-roofing of Building 50, the Chapel, and two cottages. Over the subsequent eight years, Minervini progressively restored and repurposed Building 50, the Chapel, and two cottages as part of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a mixed-use development comprising residential and commercial spaces.

The GTCRC was dissolved in 2006 due to the diminished need for its continued existence. 27 By 2014, buildings 56, 58, 60, 61, 63, 67, and 69, along with cottages 19, 20, and 36, were occupied.


Building 50

The initial structure at the state hospital, known as Building 50, was erected in the Victorian-Italianate architectural style, overseen by renowned architect Gordon W. Lloyd. 3 It opened in 1885 and initially accommodated 43 patients. Building 50 consisted of three sections on the north side for women, three on the south side for men, and administrative offices in the center. 3a

In 1963, the center wing of Building 50 was demolished as it was deemed a fire hazard. 3a 26 In its place, a new modern structure consisting of a canteen (Building 50A) and a chapel was constructed. Additionally, two infirmary wings, which were once separate structures, were joined into Building 50.

Building 22 – Men’s Dining Hall/Auditorium

Building 22, situated between and linked to Cottages 28 and 40, functioned as the men’s dining hall and auditorium. 3b Its counterpart, located in the northern cottage area for women, was demolished in the 1990s.

Building 30

Building 30, referred to interchangeably as Cottage 30, was designed by local architect E.R. Prall and constructed in 1904, accommodating between 60 and 125 male patients. 3d

Building 32

Building 32, referred to interchangeably as Cottage 32, was designed by local architect E.R. Prall and constructed in 1892, accommodating between 60 and 125 male patients. 3e At the start of the 20th century, it was known as Cottage B and later housed patients with tuberculosis.

Building 40

Building 40, referred to interchangeably as Cottage 40 or Cottage 24/26, stands as the northernmost structure within the southern group of cottages. It is linked to the south by Building 40 and connected via passageways to Buildings 40 and 28.

Designed by local architect E.R. Prall and constructed in 1898, the building initially operated with Cottage 26 on the first floor and Cottage 24 on the second floor, accommodating between 60 and 125 male patients. 3c Subsequently, it was re-designated as Cottage 40.

Building 52 – Power Plant

The original coal-fired power plant, designed by Gorwon W. Lloyd, was placed into operation behind Building 50 in 1885. 3f

In April 1948, plans were in motion to replace the aging power plant, with an estimated cost of $1.75 million. 28 The Christman Company of Lansing secured the general construction contract as the lowest bidder, offering a bid of $552,481. Mechanical work was awarded to C.L. Mahoney of Kalamazoo for $408,600, while electrical work was entrusted to the Grand Traverse Electric Company of Traverse City for $66,581. Westinghouse Electric would supply generators and switch gear for $204,805. Additionally, the contract for boilers had already been awarded for $285,236, with engineering, supervision, contingencies, and miscellaneous items amounting to $223,758.

The new power plant, Building 52, was completed in 1950. 30 That April, a contract was awarded to the Christman Company for the removal of the original power plant. 29



  1. The Rockland Campus Plan. New York State Office of Mental Health, 1989.
  2. Miller, Chris. Traverse City State Hospital, Arcadia, 2005, pp. 7, 8, 121.
  3. Traverse City State Hospital, RootsWeb.
    1. Building 50. Rootsweb.
    2. Building 22. Rootsweb.
    3. Cottage 40. Rootsweb.
    4. Cottage 30. Rootsweb.
    5. Cottage 32. Rootsweb.
    6. Building 52. Rootsweb.
  4. Perry, Deb. “Follow the Yellow Bricks.” Michigan History Magazine, 1 Mar. 2018.
  5. “National Hospital Week.” Record-Eagle, 10 May 1971, pp. 1-11.
  6. “The Out Patient Clinic.” Record-Eagle, 1 May 1968, p. 2.
  7. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The facilities observe National Hospital Week.” Record-Eagle, 12 May 1975, p.10.
  8. “T.C. State Hospital Patients in New Program.” Record-Eagle, 1 May 1968, p. 8.
  9. “Special Education Dept.” Record-Eagle, 1 May 1968, p. 7.
  10. “State Hospital Chapel Serves Many.” Record-Eagle, 1 May 1968, p. 6.
  11. “Children’s Treatment Unit Approved by State of Michigan.” Record-Eagle, 1 May 1968, p. 5.
  12. “Save the chapel.” Record-Eagle, 29 Jan. 1976, p. 4.
  13. “State Hospital Announces Residency Training Program.” Record-Eagle, 4 Dec. 1959, p. 1.
  14. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part X.” Record-Eagle, 17 Mar. 1966, p. 2-3.
  15. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part IV.” Record-Eagle, 4 Jan. 1966, p. 15.
  16. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part VIII.” Record-Eagle, 17 Feb. 1966, p. 2-1.
  17. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part XII.” Record-Eagle, 18 Apr. 1966, p. 2-7.
  18. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part VII.” Record-Eagle, 10 Feb. 1966, p. 2-1.
  19. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part V.” Record-Eagle, 13 Jan. 1966, p. 9.
  20. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part VII.” Record-Eagle, 10 Feb. 1966, p. 2-1.
  21. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part I.” Record-Eagle, 30 Nov. 1965, p. 13.
  22. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part II.” Record-Eagle, 7 Dec. 1965, p. 2-1.
  23. Curtiss, Ohmer J. “The Traverse City State Hospital Story Part III.” Record-Eagle, 16 Dec. 1965, p. 2-5.
  24. Bell, Dawson. “Everything must go – from asylum.” Detroit Free Press, 25 Jun. 1998, pp. 1A-17A.
  25. Hacker, David. “Psychiatric hospital to end century of care.” Detroit Free Press, 12 Jul. 1968, p. 5A.
  26. History.” The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
  27. Historic Profile.” Grand Traverse Commons.
  28. “Traverse Figures Power Plant Cost.” Lansing State Journal, 17 Apr. 1948, p. 2.
  29. “Christman Awarded Job of Removing Power Unit.” Lansing State Journal, 6 Apr. 1950, p. 43.
  30. “1950 Brings City’s Biggest Building Boom.” Record-Eagle, 30 Dec. 1950, pp. 1-3.
  31. “Name Asylum Soon to Pass Out of Existence.” Battle Creek Enquirer, 18 Jul. 1911, p. 5.
  32. Flesher, John. “Auction at Traverse City marks end of ‘dark ages’.” Lansing State Journal, 27 Jun. 1998, pp. 1B-3B.

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