Preservation of the Northern Michigan Asylum

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Traverse City was visiting The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.  The built heritage preservation and adaptive reuse of the buildings contained in the 63 acre site is amazing and serves as a reminder of the possibilities encompassed by built heritage.  The Village is built on the site that was home to the Northern Michigan Asylum, later known as the Traverse City State Hospital from 1885-1989. 

The site comprises a large complex of buildings, with the main building being surrounded by cottages and smaller out buildings.  The main building (Building 50) is the last remaining Kirkbride style building in Michigan and large portions of it have been renovated and turned into public and private spaces.

The renovated building features a Mercato market space which features shops, restaurants, and  hallways filled with artwork.  The building also includes a number of residential spaces and office space.  During my visit the space was also home to an indoor farmers market.  The variety of adaptive reuse options that have been used on this one building are amazing, historical spaces have been converted to a variety of modern uses that have broad appeal and sustainability. 

In addition to the amazing adaptive reuse the site is located amongst 480 acres of preserved parkland.  The village grounds also contain a  heritage arboretum.  This arboretum developed out of Dr. James Decker Munson’s belief in beauty is therapy, which resulted in a variety of beautiful trees being planted around the Hospital. It’s nice to see a space preserving aspects of the natural landscape which complement the built heritage features.  

Overall, the site is an amazing preservation project that has garnered tremendous local support and inspired contemplation of the history of the site.  Visitors to the Village can’t help but notice the rich history of their surroundings.  During our visit I heard more than one person talking about the social history of the site and explaining aspects of the local history–the space is a great model for communities looking to reinvigorate unused heritage buildings.