The history behind what locals know as The Commons is an unconventional one. Built in 1881 and opened in 1885, the Northern Michigan Asylum (later changed to The Traverse City State Hospital) was quickly expanded under the supervision of Dr. James Decker Munson. The asylum was a self-sufficient operation, growing its own crops, raising livestock and even running its own electricity. The grounds were populated with an abundance of trees and flowers which aligned with Dr. Munson’s “beauty is therapy” philosophy. Dr. Munson also believed that “work is therapy.” Patients were encouraged to gain a sense of purpose by finding a form of work to do. The patients farmed, gardened, canned, tended to the farm animals and more, which contributed greatly to the hospital’s self-sufficient ways.
The most famous of the farm animals was a dairy cow named Colantha Walker, who is buried on the grounds today. In 1926 she was the highest milk producer in the world, producing a total of 22,918 pounds of milk in a single year. In her lifetime she produced 200,114.9 pounds of milk. When she died, because she was so well-loved, she was buried on the grounds with a large headstone to mark her grave.
Not only was the State Hospital an asylum for the mentally ill, but it also served as a hospital for patients who had contracted various diseases during outbreaks, offered treatment for drug addicts, was a home for the elderly and offered training to nurses. After the asylum was closed in 1989, it sat abandoned for the next 10 years and the irreplaceable architecture was set for the wrecking ball.
In 2002, visionary developer Ray Minervini Sr. and his team, the Minervini Group, assumed ownership of the State Hospital, renaming it The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Since then, the Minervini Group has turned the Commons into a buzzing community hub. Although there is more work to be done, as of early 2017, the campus’s centerpiece structure, Building 50, a 387,000-square-foot, three-story behemoth, is now renovated and occupied with a mix of residential condos, retail stores and restaurants along with an event venue and senior residential community.
Today the Commons is bustling with activity. It’s a perfect place to go on a historical tour, meet friends for a cup of coffee, enjoy a delicious local meal, or rent a mountain bike and ride trails in the hilly, adjacent park.
Between the shopping and the beauty, it’s a Traverse City destination that can’t be missed.
More About The Village at Grand Traverse Commons
Video by MyNorth Media for Traverse Magazine.