Historical Tours Offer Glimpse Into Traverse City’s Past

Historical Tours Offer Glimpse Into Traverse City’s Past
Historical Tours Offer Glimpse Into Traverse City's Past - The Awesome Mitten
A view of renovated buildings at the former Traverse City State Hospital/ Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Photo courtesy of Christine Snow.

Looking for something fun and exciting to do in the Traverse City area? A historical tour of the former Traverse City State Hospital and the Village at Grand Traverse Commons is a must-do experience when visiting the Northern Michigan area.

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is also known as the former Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane. This area is a fascinating mix of abandoned buildings, spacious park areas, winding paths, renovated shops, office spaces, condos, and restaurants.  Totaling almost a million square feet, the former hospital housing and administration buildings are considered one of the largest historic restoration and adaptive re-use project in the United States.

Historical Tours Offer Glimpse into Traverse City's Past - The Awesome Mitten
A yet-to-be-restored patient housing cottage on the campus of the former Traverse City State Hospital/Northern Michigan Asylum of the Insane. Photo courtesy of Christine Snow.

A Bit of History

The hospital operated between 1885 – 1989. During its peak, it housed 3,500 residents. Care at the facility was very progressive for its time. It operated on the philosophy that exposure to nature, socialization opportunities, and being productive were the best treatments for mentally ill patients. The design of the hospital buildings and grounds reflect those views. Thousands of windows allowed for natural light as well as the presence of garden areas, pathways, and open-design buildings.

After the facility closed in 1989, it sat vacant until 2000. Then, a local preservation group and design company began working together to begin renovations. Today, the renovated areas house shops, office space, condos, wineries, restaurants, and art galleries. Plans are in the works to continue renovations on the remaining buildings over the next several years.

The former grounds also have a new lease on life and regularly host a local farmer’s market, festivals, concerts, and other community events. Miles of groomed trails offer hiking, biking, jogging, and cross-country skiing opportunities.

Historical Tours Offer Glimpse into Traverse City's Past - The Awesome Mitten
View down one of the main hallways in a former patient housing building. Photo courtesy of Christine Snow.

About the Tours

There are several tour options. The most popular tour is the Guided Historic Walking Tour.  Visitors will walk through three former asylum cottages, restored shops, and finally, through the 1885 underground steam tunnels.  This tour focuses on the history of the hospital and the ongoing preservation efforts.

The Tripod Photography Tour allows photographers of all abilities to capture unique images of the former hospital and grounds. This tour allows for additional time to explore attics, basements, and abandoned buildings not included on the Guided Historic Walking Tour. This tour also includes a walk through the 1885 underground steam tunnels.

Looking for a bit of spooky fun? Book the Twilight Tour and hear fascinating stories about life at the hospital while touring an abandoned ‘cottage’ by flashlight. This includes a walk through the 1885 underground steam tunnels.

The average distance for all tours is approximately one mile. Be aware that age guidelines apply for all tours. VIP/private tours are also available.

Historical Tours Offer Glimpse into Traverse City's Past - The Awesome Mitten
Inside the steam-pipe tunnels that run under the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Viewing and walking the tunnels is considered a highlight of the historical tours. Photo courtesy of Christine Snow

To book a tour, visit the Village at Grand Traverse Commons website – The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Historical Tours Offer Glimpse into Traverse City's Past - The Awesome Mitten
The butter-yellow bricks used to construct the buildings at the former Traverse City State Hospital/Northern Michigan Asylum of the Insane – now known as the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.  These bricks were known as ‘Markham’ bricks after the name of the company that produced the over four-million bricks needed to construct the campus. Photo courtesy of Christine Snow.

Tour Tips

  • Be sure to wear a closed-toe, rubber-soled shoe. The tours cover a lot of ground, some of it slippery and uneven.
  • Even during the summer, the basement/tunnel areas are chilly. Dress in light layers, such as a t-shirt and jacket. Consider wearing pants and long sleeves, to protect arms and legs in the tunnels and abandoned buildings.
  • Check the age guidelines for all tours prior to booking.
  • Use the restroom before the tour begins – there won’t be an opportunity after you leave.
  • Consider the conditions prior to booking your tour. Anyone who has difficulty walking, has a fear of smaller, enclosed spaces (tunnel areas), or is unable to climb stairs should consider these factors prior to booking.
  • Be sure to book in advance. These tours fill quickly, especially during the busy summer months.
  • Plan some extra time visit the shops and the unique restaurants in the Commons area. Grab a sweet treat from the Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery or Underground Cheesecake Company. Stop by Spanglish for authentic Mexican cuisine or enjoy a wine tasting at Left Foot Charley.  For more information on shops and eateries at the Commons, click here – The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
Historical Tours Offer Glimpse into Traverse City's Past - The Awesome Mitten
A view of one of the restored buildings that houses the local eatery ‘Trattoria Stella.’ Photo courtesy of Christine Snow.

 

Historical Tours Offer Glimpse Into Traverse City's Past - The Awesome Mitten
An evening view of a former patient housing ‘cottage’ during the Twilight Tour of the former Traverse City State Hospital. Photo courtesy of Christine Snow.

Have you had a chance to tour the former Traverse City State Hospital? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.