CMU’s Clarke Historical Library says that on Nov 30, 1885, the Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane opened in Traverse City. It’s now known as the The Village at Grand Traverse Commons and 10 years ago I worked there and was able to lead and was able to lead a group of photographers including Carolyn on a tour of the then un-renovated parts of what was known as Building 50. FYI, the section we toured is now the luxurious Cordia senior residential club.
The facility 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 photos from the group A little trip up north… It’s also reflected in the grounds and the shops, restaurants & businesses that are part of the Commons today.