Traverse City State Hospital Revisited with PreservationWorks

During my recent visit to the Traverse City State Hospital campus in Traverse City, Michigan, I had the privilege of participating in PreservationWork’s final full tripod photographic tour.

During my recent visit to the Traverse City State Hospital campus in Traverse City, Michigan, I had the privilege of participating in PreservationWork’s final full tripod photographic tour, with Christian VanAntwerpen and others serving as hosts. Despite ongoing rehabilitation efforts limiting access to certain buildings, various tours, including standard historic tours, twilight tours, and smaller photographic tours, are still available. Notably, the preservation of several buildings once slated for demolition stands as a testament to the dedicated efforts of historic preservationists.

The Traverse City State Hospital, renowned for its Kirkbride and cottage plan architecture, has transformed remarkably into a vibrant mixed-use development along Lake Michigan’s picturesque shores.

The hospital’s rich history dates back to November 30, 1885, when the first patient arrived at the Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane. By the end of that year, the facility was already caring for 492 patients. In 1911, it was renamed the Traverse City State Hospital, reflecting a shift away from the term “asylum,” which had acquired negative connotations over time.

Expansion was rapid, with numerous cottages constructed between 1885 and 1924, alongside the establishment of a nursing school in 1907, a general hospital in 1924, and an Outpatient Clinic in 1925. At its peak in the early 1960s, the hospital accommodated 3,000 patients.

Two key philosophies guided the hospital administration: “Beauty is Therapy” and “Work is Therapy.” These principles emphasized the therapeutic value of beauty and meaningful employment for patients. Measures such as careful landscaping, prohibition of straightjacket usage except in extreme cases, and provision of fine dining and artwork aimed to foster comfort and well-being.

However, challenges such as amendments to labor laws, rising costs, and the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1960s led to changes in the hospital’s operations. By 1989, the Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital formally closed its doors, marking the end of an era.

Efforts to repurpose the abandoned structures were initially met with resistance, but preservationists successfully halted demolition attempts. In 1992, the State of Michigan sold portions of the campus to a locally-controlled redevelopment corporation, paving the way for future revitalization efforts. The Minervini Group’s redevelopment plan proposed in 2001 has since guided the gradual transformation of the hospital buildings into residential and commercial spaces, ensuring the preservation of this historic landmark for generations to come.

The enduring legacy of PreservationWorks and the dedicated efforts of historic preservationists to save the Traverse City State Hospital campus from demolition are sources of profound gratitude and admiration. Through their tireless work and unwavering commitment to preserving our cultural heritage, they have provided opportunities for enriching photographic tours over the years and ensured the survival of a historic landmark that would have otherwise been lost to time. Their collective passion for safeguarding the stories and architecture of the past serves as a beacon of inspiration for future generations, reminding us of the importance of cherishing and protecting our shared history for years to come.

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I’m writing my father’s life story. After my father got home from the Korean War he ended up here in the Traverse City mental hospital, where they guided him back on the right track of life. If they reopened mental hospitals today, I think there would be a lot less homeless people on the streets, they’re lost people who need to be guided back on the right track of life. Thanks to the Traverse City mental hospital for saving my father’s life, he was a wonderful man.
Thank you for the photos, I was curious of what the inside of the hospital looks like, funny how you posted this at this time while I’m writing my father’s story.

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