A little trip up north… and Thomas Story Kirkbride

2 Doors Down
2 Doors Down, photo by Carolyn Gallo

Last weekend, I had the good fortune to lead a photo walk for a group of Michigan photographers at the place where I work, the The Village at Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City. We were touring the as yet un-renovated parts of what was known as Building 50 when it was the Traverse City State Hospital. Also known as the Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane and the Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital, the building was a Kirkbride Institution, designed by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride.

Kirkbride was a Pennsylvania Quaker and founding member of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane who developed a concept of treatment known as the Kirkbride Plan. This plan proposed a particular way of housing patients that included segregating by severity of mental illness and fresh air and natural light where possible:

It was believed crucial to place patients in a more natural environment away from the pollutants and hectic energy of urban centers. Abundant fresh air and natural light not only contributed to a healthy environment, but also served to promote a more cheerful atmosphere. Extensive grounds with cultivated parks and farmland were also beneficial to the success of an asylum. Landscaped parks served to both stimulate and calm patients’ minds with natural beauty (enhanced by rational order) while improving the overall aspect of the asylum. Farmland served to make the asylum more self-sufficient by providing readily available food and other farm products at a minimal cost to the state.

Patients were encouraged to help work the farms and keep the grounds, as well as participate in other chores. Such structured occupation was meant to provide a sense of purpose and responsibility which, it was believed, would help regulate the mind as well as improve physical fitness. Patients were also encouraged to take part in recreations, games, and entertainments which would also engage their minds, make their stay more pleasant, and perhaps help foster and maintain social skills.

There’s lots more from Kirkbride Buildings where the author has done some spectacular scholarship and created an excellent resource for these amazing structures. The Kirkbride System produced a photographic environment of uncommon richness that is evident in the slideshow from the group A little trip up north…, the Flick slideshow for the “atripupnorth2010” tag and in the streams of the photographers in the group. They also visited some wineries and other spots in the area.

As an added bonus, and unlike many of Michigan’s ruins, the Village at Grand Traverse Commons is actively being redeveloped. In fact, this week a crew began work to restore much of the North Wing where we toured!

See this photo bigger in Carolyn’s Photogs Up North slideshow.

Search Kirkbride on Michigan in Pictures for more about the history of this remarkable place.

5 thoughts on “A little trip up north… and Thomas Story Kirkbride

  1. How lucky you are. I love the history of the commons. My favorite is the book by the gardeners son. I have so may pictures of the outside. Please let me know if there is ever a chance of an inside tour. No matter how brief. I spoke with the flower shop owner inside once and she let me see the old freezer/cooler. She gave me a lot of info also and we talked of the tunnels. I’ve told so many friends and family members of this place. They were very intrigued. I love the pictures. Lucky photographers-:-)


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