Tunnels of Traverse City State Hospital

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Uses for: TV & Movie production shooting alone. Art Gallery.
Storage for local use.
Group events, Games.

I wish this article told us much more. What were the tunnels used for? Where are the other Kirkbrande buildings? What does the interior of the hospital looks like? Are there any images of when it was a hospital with patients in it? Why was the community so Keen to save the building? Is there a website for it? Could we get a hyperlink to a place to learn more about Thomas Kirkbrande?


Great questions! If you want to know more about Kirkbride Buildings, this awesome blog looks pretty comprehensive!


How ironic that an institution known for its particularly cruel treatment of the mentally ill should become a residence for the wealthy. If you listen closely, you can probably hear the patients still screaming at night. The Kirkbride Movement, while well-intended, did nothing to treat those suffering from these diseases any better than any other method of the time. Horrendous. Truly horrendous.

I live in Traverse City and can add to this. The tunnels were largely used for transporting goods and materials between buildings. For much of its history, the hospital was entirely self-sustaining with its own electrical plant and farm. I’ve attached a couple photos of what the interiors looked like historically and more recently prior to renovation. These hallways have since been turned into residential units, with some being high end condos, some being apartments, and a portion being a senior living facility. The basement now houses boutiques, shops, and restaurants, as well as a farmer’s market on Saturdays in the winter. The old cathedral and barns have been turned into event spaces. There is a website for the new development, now known as the Grand Traverse Commons due in large part to its park-like setting and mixed use: https://www.thevillagetc.com. The old state hospital (as locals call it) was economically and architecturally important to the area and we have been exceedingly fortunate that a developer arrived that saw the potential and beauty in the existing buildings and opted to revitalize rather than raze them. The red spires of the building can be seen rising above the treetops from a number of vantage points and the surrounding parkland offer a variety of hiking and snowshoeing trails with some of the best views overlooking the city. The revitalization efforts undertaken by the Minervini Group have maintained all of that as public use space.

Lastly, this will give you more info on Kirkbride and the buildings constructed using his plans. http://www.kirkbridebuildings.com

I just took a tour of this sprawling campus including the tunnels. They were part of the original heating and cooling of the buildings. Once lined with pipes of hot water, like a radiator the heat was meant to rise through the walls and heat the building. And cool it with the same concept in summer. According to our guide it worked “okay”. It was only used for a few years before the whole system was upgraded.

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Use for storage, archive
TV & Movie production shooting.
Group tours

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Actually from it’s inception this hospital was known for its humane treatment of its patients. “Beauty is Therapy” was the motto there. Well lit, airy, beautiful grounds, dinner on fine china, patties, plays, etc. Straight jackets were forbidden from the beginning there. It’s an awesome place to see in person. It wasn’t like most psychiatric hospitals.

The tunnels were certainly a luxury convenience during the harsh winters up there on Lake Michigan. My Grandmothers brother was a life long resident committed as a young adult until he died of old age living in a surrounding cottage, he had two uncles who were prosperous physicians, I don’t think they would have left him there if it was too bad. I believe that he might have been a homeless person or a convict now days.