Tunnels of Traverse City State Hospital
A subterranean world of tunnels links several buildings of this rare 19th-century asylum.
The Traverse City State Hospital (also known as the Northern Michigan Asylum) was founded in 1885 and served as a home for the mentally ill for over 100 years. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 as one of the few Kirkbride Buildings to remain in existence in the United States.
The Kirkbride Plan was a distinctive design for mental hospitals developed in the mid-1800s by the psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride. These sprawling, linear buildings were laid out with two wings subdivided into several wards that stretched out from the center to encourage plenty of natural light and good air circulation, as well as segregate patients based on their gender and illness.
Like many Kirkbride Buildings, the hospital in Traverse City was threatened with demolition after it closed in 1989, but the city and local residents fought to have the buildings saved from the wrecking ball. Since then, the massive facility has been undergoing renovation and rehabilitation into an impressive mixed-use development of housing, retail, restaurants, and offices known as the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
The complex currently offers tours of the renovation efforts, including a trip through the most impressive aspect of the historic site: the underground tunnel system connecting Building 50 (the Kirkbride structure) with several other buildings. The tunnels are just one part of the historical tour, but they are amazing and impressive, particularly the arching brick main tunnel that the tour route passes through.
Know Before You Go
Multiple tour options are offered that include the tunnels. Advanced reservations and a tour liability waiver are available through the Village at Grand Traverse Commons website.
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