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Historic tour takes guests inside and underneath the old state hospital

Some of the highlights of the tour include exploring the old dining hall with a deteriorating kitchen, the patients' quarters, the restored chapel with original woodwork, and the brick steam tunnels underneath the complex which provided heat to the buildings.


The Traverse City State Hospital has a colorful past, but many people don't know what really went on there.


The historic tour at the Grand Traverse Commons helps change that.


"There's a lot of people that have a lot of interest in the history of the site and want to know what it looks like," said developer Raymond Minervini. "We get to show them behind the scenes and places that aren't normally open to the public."


The tour takes you inside the historic buildings formerly known as the Traverse City State Hospital, and before that, the Northern Michigan Asylum.


The buildings date back to the late 1800's. They were used for just over 100 years before the hospital was shut down in 1989.


In 2002, Minervini Group Developers interceded with redevelopment and restoration plans.


"Since then we've been working to rehabilitate the main parts of the building and outbuildings for different uses. Those uses have included condominiums, shops, offices, restaurants, and there's been a lot of interest over the years for historic tours," explained Minervini.


The lead tour guide for the Commons, Joe Kilpatrick, started as a guide for the History Center.


"They want to know if it's a haunted tour. It's not a haunted tour is at historic tour," explained Kilpatrick.


"I read everything I can get my hands on regarding this place, all of the major books that of been written about it," said Kilpatrick. "I just continue to do as much research as possible it's one of the things that appeals to me."


All of that knowledge is packed into a two hour hike through dilapidated buildings. Guests will learn about the architecture and the original purpose.


"They're very surprised to find out how positive of the place this was initially. This was a completely different approach to treating the mentally ill than anything that had preceded it in the mid-1800s," Kilpatrick explained. "Normally when we think of the word asylum it's a pretty dark image that comes to mind. We've been socially acclimated that way and the taste we have left in our minds from the asylum system is a pretty nasty one."


"That idea, that noble intent of helping people is the part that we try to celebrate and that's what these tours are trying to remind people of," said Minervini.


Some of the highlights of the tour include exploring the old dining hall with a deteriorating kitchen, the patients' quarters, the restored chapel with original woodwork, and the brick steam tunnels underneath the complex which provided heat to the buildings.


Guests are encouraged to wear good walking shoes, as the tour covers about a mile and it's not necessarily the easiest ground to cover.


"Be prepared to go up and down some weird old steps. The state of Michigan have different standards for building stairs back in the old days. Some places taller people have to crouch down like in the tunnel area involves low clearance," said Minervini.


The tour draws people from all over, including Claas Kuhnen, a Germany native now living in Detroit.


"You know so much about asylums from movies," said Kuhnen, "So it may be cliché, but it might be interesting to take the tour."


Even people who have lived in Traverse City for decades are curious about the complex's history.


"We've come to the grounds, but we've never done that tour through the tunnels and it was really wonderful," confessed Colleen Barker. "Seeing the old chapel totally restored was really neat and then going down in the tunnels."


If you're interested in stepping back in time, you better hurry.


"There will be a point where we can't go into an abandoned building that hasn't been renovated, but the steam tunnel will always be there," said Minervini.


Minervini said it will likely be another five to ten years until work is complete and the tours will have to change.



T

he tour costs $25 dollars. They run year round. For more information and where to get your tickets, click here.

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