Abandoned places have a unique ability to really bring out my imagination. Whether it is an abandoned ship or ancient castle, I am absolutely fascinated by all things old and cast away in the past. Now add to that a new dimension of “mental hospital”… and I get shivers down my spine. Psychiatric hospital Northville Regional, Michigan, United States is a prime example of just that. For decades, the massive establishment housed and treated the mentally ill, but in 2001 the concrete building was abandoned to its fate. I don’t know if I’d had dared go in myself, but fortunately there are brave photographers who appreciate visiting sites to document bygone eras. It isn’t always legal, but it gives us insight that can hopefully help us learn from history.
The Northville Psychiatric Hospital was opened in 1952 and was considered one of the finest facilities in the country to treat psychiatric patients. Politicians thought that the place, surrounded by mountains in Wayne County, was the perfect location to build hospitals, sanatoriums and prisons as these could both be isolated from the city and benefit from cleaner air at higher altitudes.
The complex consists of 20 buildings scattered over a wooded and sometimes swampy land. In the 1970s, the state began to trim down the budget for mental health, closing some hospitals. Many people therefore came to Northville and soon enough congestion became a major problem.
The hospital was designed to take care of 650 patients, but at times, it housed over 1,000. Some had to sleep in the gymnasium until more rooms could be arranged.
In the 1980s, budget and staff cuts took their toll. A series of investigative reports from the Detroit News in 1983 found conditions at the hospital “appalling.”
Reporters found patients sleeping in the corridors, many just sitting and chain-smoking, and staring into a television. While they barely received therapy, the doctors were generous when it came to distributing psychotropic drugs.
Assault, theft, racism, abuse and rape were common. It also happened that patients died during fights with hospital staff, or fellow patients.
Despite security measures, patients often escaped. People who lived in the area surrounding the hospital were accustomed to seeing patients roaming about their streets or hiding in their gardens. Most often, the police would find them at local restaurants or the mall.
A nurse who interned at North Wille worried about how the place was run. “After weeks in department Ward A1-1 in the spring of 1984 as part of my internship at Detroit’s College, one thing became clear: It would be much too nice to call North Wille a psychiatric hospital. People were not treated here, they were preserved”. em>
In the 1990s, the downward trend continued. The state wanted to transfer patients from expensive hospitals to other, cheaper alternatives.
The hospital changed its name in 1995 to Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital. In the late 90s, Northville was one of the last remaining state mental hospitals in Michigan. What once was called “Palace of Glass,” for its modern design, became increasingly outdated and run down.
In 2001, for a variety of reasons, politicians decided to at last close down all hospital operations. At the time of closure, the hospital had 536 employees and 239 patients.
Immediately after its closure, the state decided that the property should be sold. It was valued at the time at over USD $70million. They thought it would only take a few months to find a buyer, but selling Northville would come to last almost 10 years.
Meanwhile, the hospital became a place for curious and urban explorers. Photographer Thomas Hawk is one of its visitors.
But the unkept structure and its leaky roof has also opened up the hospital building to wildlife.
In January 2002, the municipality in Northville Township came up with a plan to transform the gigantic complex into a large nature reserve and activity park. They wanted, among other things, to build hiking and biking trails, an ice rink, and a skate park. The hospital buildings would be demolished to make room for all this.
But little has happened since. It seems we must wait for the hospital to be demolished.
Did this place give you mixed feelings? Scary, awesome, and exciting. Below you can watch a drone’s aerial view of the hospital.
Feel free to forward this fascinating place and story with all your friends. strong>