Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Standing Outside the Asylum

I have always wanted to photograph here at the former Northern Michigan Asylum in Traverse City.

Yet each time we have visited it seemed to be raining. I thought this time would be another losing situation, considering it was snowing when we left our house, and we drove through a mini snow storm on the way to Traverse City.

As we neared Traverse City though, I could see patches of blue sky getting bigger and the sun starting to peak out. I thought "finally I will get to photograph and explore the former Asylum". I had even come prepared with an extra camera so Glen could have something to do while I was exploring.

Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane

  • Construction began in April 1883
  • This was the third Asylum built in the state of Michigan
  • Architectural style is Victorian-Italianate
  • The first patients began arriving in the winter of 1885/1886
  • Some of the buildings have been restored into retail shops and restaurants
  • Others remain untouched, the unrestored ones are the ones that called to me
Glen and I started out together at the Gardener's Cottage, built in 1890 and remodeled in 1922. The little details captivated me here.

This is also were I left Glen to his own devises. I hoped he would continue on his own and not give up, but either way I was off to explore.

Separate infirmaries a.k.a. cottages were built apart from the main building. The main building has been restored and most of the cottages have not.

Cottage No. 30
Established in 1904 as a men's cottage. This cottage housed "working patients" patients who assisted in the fields and did grounds keeping chores.

The front porch...

Side view including the round tower...

The men's dining hall…

Cottage No. 40

Established in 1893 it housed the more boisterous male patients.

Cottage No. 28

Established in 1887 as a men's geriatric ward

Cottage No. 32

Established in 1889 as a men's ward and later converted to a tuberculosis ward.

Exploring the backside of the buildings
The backsides offer up some awesome grunge and I am sucker for doors...

It was at this point in my exploration that I began to wonder where Glen had gone to. I had not seen him since I left him at the Gardner's cottage. I had a sneaking suspicion that he had gone back to the car and was catching up on work stuff on his phone. But much to my delight as I turned around from shooting this screen door, there he was lurking in the bushes shooting some berries on a bush.

A couple last door/entryway photos. All this grunge and decay fills my little photographer heart with joy.

I came across this book…

at a little bookstore in a nearby town. It has proved to be priceless in helping me identify the buildings I photographed and the history behind them.

I hope to get back up there again next spring or summer and explore the women's cottages, since I have only explored the men's side so far.

Joining Helen for Weekend Walks a little late.


  1. That is a very big research Sarah and super photo's...i especially like the way you shot the front porch...It does look a bit scary..and I try to imagine it in it's day...thanks so much for sharing this series...and a look at a different time..

  2. That is a very big research Sarah and super photo's...i especially like the way you shot the front porch...It does look a bit scary..and I try to imagine it in it's day...thanks so much for sharing this series...and a look at a different time..

  3. Good morning Sarah. Looks like you had another fun adventure. Were you tempted to go inside? You really have you composition down also. Wonderful photos!

  4. Your detail shots are artistic and engaging. I'm so glad you were able to finally get to photograph this location as well as learn more about it and appreciate you shared it with us. I'm willing to bet there are endless stories with these buildings.

  5. We think alike, you are the one who pursues though. I have thought about walking the grounds at TC Asylum a bunch of times, wonderful photos. My favorite is the building with the side entrance on the right . . . Perfect!

  6. Wow, I too, love the grunge of it all. And I have to say, looking at these on Halloween gave me the chills. So, are we going to see the berry shot by Glen? This is great stuff. The imagination runs wild with the stories that are embedded in those walls/buildings. Aloha

  7. Creepy and yet beautiful. You captured to mood of the asylum so well. Gave me chills too!

  8. I've not yet visited a place like this yet although there are plenty around - I must put one of my list. The blue paint is exactly the same shade that was used at Victoria Baths - it goes well with rust and peeling! Thanks for linking to my Weekend Walks!

  9. Oh I love your shots especially the railing with the green rust gorgeous.

  10. Oh my gosh - a photographers dream... beautiful images...

  11. Amazing pictures! Perfect for viewing on Halloween! Maybe a photo history book in your future? Is like to preorder my copy!

  12. Well done Sarah!! You better hurry back, they are upgrading more and more of my favorite buildings. 2 weeks ago they took down my favorite Iron fence. Lucky I got a few shot in last winter and spring. Your pictures are great

  13. Love how you capture the details of decay so beautifully and you've really captured the atmosphere of the asylum. Great job.

  14. A perfect post for Halloween - it looks like some ghosts could still linger. I love the patina of age you've captured.

  15. Such an interesting place. Gives me the creeps because of the past practices and lack of knowledge. I really like the round tower shot. Great comp

  16. This really is amazing. I love the detail you captured. It really get my mind wondering all kinds of things. Your photos speak volumes.

  17. Such a beautiful place, love the way you have captured it, your photos are amazing

  18. This is a fascinating post. So poignant!

    PS I love the weathered door purely for aesthetic reasons.

  19. You captured this area of the asylum so well! I wonder who stood behind those windows and walked through those doors! Love the round tower shot; great POV! Looking forward to more of your explorations here!

  20. I somehow stumbled across your blog today and enjoyed your beautiful photos from my home state. I was particularly interested in this post.
    As a child I remember visiting my grandfather in Traverse City. He lived on Front Street and worked at the zoo. We only saw him once or twice a year as we lived in the Detroit area. I knew that he was living in Traverse City because he had suffered with mental illness and was sent to a "mental institution". Sadly it was a shameful thing back then and wasn't talked about.
    Reading through the history of the asylum, I was pleased to learn that patients were treated with kindness and that natural beauty in the surroundings was highly regarded. The stories we normally hear about insane asylum's back then usually conjure up horrifying images of shock treatments, etc.
    I knew my grandfather as a loving man. Unfortunately he had to know mental illness in his lifetime. All these years later I am happy to know that he was in a good place for his treatment.
    Thank you for this post. Just thought I would share how it touched one reader today.


Thank you so much for visiting today and taking the time to read my thoughts on life. :)