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This state hospital just outside of Detroit was at one time regarded as one of the best psychiatric facilities in the country.

Northville State Hospital

Northville State Hospital | Photo © 2020 Sugarbomb

Like most of the country in the mid-twentieth century, the state of Michigan's network of mental hospitals was faced with overcrowding, aging, and inadequate facilities to treat the influx of patients. A new facility was needed in southeast Michigan and in the 1940s construction began in the city of Northville. Located just outside of Detroit, the Northville State Psychiatric Hospital opened its doors in 1952 when 25 patients were the first to be admitted.

The entirety of the hospital sat on 453 acres of wooded land and was regarded as one of the best psychiatric facilities in the country when it opened. When it was finished, Northville State Hospital was comprised of 20 buildings. The main building, a towering structure on the north side of the property lined with windows was once called the “Palace of Glass” for its modern construction. It had eight floors of patient rooms and facilities, a partial 9th floor with bedrooms for doctors and staff on 24 hour call, and a top floor that was a mechanical equipment room.

Northville State Hospital

Northville State Hospital | Photo © 2020 Sugarbomb

Three buildings are attached to the main structure which included an admissions unit with offices and interview rooms, a psychiatric treatment unit with electro shock therapy tubs, ice bathtubs, and the administrative unit. That unit also housed an 80 seat theater and the main kitchen. The kitchen had separate walk-in refrigerators. It included a butcher shop, a bake shop, a bread-making room, a vegetable prep department, ice cream making room, main kitchen, dietician, training kitchen, dishwasher and storage areas.

Patients with varying degrees and types of psychological problems were treated in different wards and buildings around the hospital campus. The hospital was almost completely self-sufficient with its own laundry, kitchen, gymnasium, movie theater, swimming pool, and bowling alley. The entire facility was powered by a steam plant which supplied electricity and heat through a network of underground tunnels. This network of tunnels were also used by staff for moving around the property, hidden below ground and out of sight of the surrounding town and frigid Michigan weather.

At the height of the Cold War in 1963, the hospital's basement and tunnels were designated as a civil defense fallout shelter. The tunnels were stocked with enough food and water to sustain 17,000 people - the combined population of Northville township and city.

In the hospital's early years, Northville was a pioneer in the use of art and music as part of treatment. Patients could learn to play musical instruments, study trades such as mechanics or home economics, put on plays, work in hospital facilities, and tend the grounds.

Touted as the most modern mental hospital in the world, the Northville facility was regarded as Michigan's first attempt at scientific treatment of mental illness.

Northville State Hospital

The two-lane bowling alley at Northville State Hospital | Photo © 2020 Sugarbomb

While previous mental hospital practices relied on padded cells and barred windows, Northville featured windows covered with stainless steel security screens. Many wards were open instead of locked and seclusion rooms replaced padded cells. Rather than the sterile hospital white, 16 different paint shades were used on the walls and soothing music was broadcast throughout the hospital. One of the hospital's strengths was the ratio of employees to patients. This type of hospital was ideal for the treatment of mental illness, but it was also costly to maintain.

Northville State Hospital

The gymnasium at Northville State Hospital | Photo © 2020 Sugarbomb

Overcrowding quickly became an issue despite the sprawling hospital campus. The facility had been designed for 650 patients but by 1957 the patient population had grown to over 2,000. Space was so limited at times that some patients had to sleep in the gymnasium until more rooms could be arranged. Budget cuts over the years resulted in the elimination of programs for patients, staff layoffs, overcrowding and inability to replace aging equipment.

With the advent of psychiatric medications patients were recovering quicker and didn’t need to stay at the hospital for as long. The population at Northville finally dropped to 1,650 in 1968 and was down to 900 by 1971. Even with the assistance of medication therapy, the population at Northville remained well above the amount of patients it was designed for, often having greater than 1,000 patients at any given time.

Northville State Hospital

Pieces of an old projector found in one of the buildings at Northville State Hospital | Photo © 2020 Sugarbomb

The situation at Northville continued in this manner for the next decade and by 1980 the situation had deteriorated to the extent that the staff and nurses would stay in the nurses' stations unless they had to leave for meals, bedtime, or to break up fights. That same year the hospital lost its accreditation. The overcrowding, underfunding, and apathy led to the patients receiving the bare minimum - if that - when it came to care.

Many patients were over-medicated as a result so that they could just sit there and watch television or lay in their beds. "People are not treated at Northville; they are warehoused," said a staff member in the spring of 1984. In 1985, an investigation by the Justice Department found that due to overcrowding and understaffing, some patients were getting worse instead of better.

Northville State Hospital

Patient rooms 246 and 248 at Northville State Hospital | Photo © 2020 Sugarbomb

The son of one of the patients at Northville recounted how his mother's treatment at the hospital consisted of being restrained to a bed and put in the hallway so the staff could see her. Sometimes, he said, she would be left to sit like that for days on end.

Under Governor John Engler in the 1990s, the state moved toward private, community-based care because it was less expensive than state-run hospitals. With this shift toward deinstitutionalization, the patient population at Northville declined throughout the end of the twentieth century. 

The hospital slowly closed down each building one by one as the amount of patients being treated at the hospital dropped and in 2002, the state of Michigan announced that it was going to close the Northville State Hospital within a year. After 50 years of operation, the hospital needed major infrastructure repairs and was simply too expensive to keep open for the 239 remaining patients being treated there. 

Northville State Hospital

Northville State Hospital | Photo © 2020 Sugarbomb

The final days at Northville were marked with uncertainty and many of the remaining patients didn't know where they would be going until a few weeks or even days before the hospital closed. Most of the remaining patients were transferred to nearby facilities and some were sent across the state to other hospitals.


The last patient left on May 16th, 2003, after which a skeleton crew of staff began winding down operations. The hospital's closure was condemned by the journal of the American Psychiatric Association, the same organization that had recognized the hospital's excellence in the 50s.

The buildings sat empty after the hospital closed its doors, deteriorating with the help of time, trespassers, and scrappers. In 2009, Township residents voted to acquire the property for around $23.5 million and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the following decade to protect the property from trespassers and vandals.


Visitors to the old hospital buildings will tell you they're not as empty as they seem and rumors of hauntings at the old psychiatric hospital were common. Whether or not the old halls are filled with the spirits of former patients is up for debate but one thing that they are definitely filled with is asbestos.

The large amounts of asbestos and other environmental hazards created a challenge to the Township for removal and demolition. "For the past several years, scrappers and trespassers have vandalized the property, spreading asbestos, and have accelerated the deterioration of the buildings. This activity created public safety concerns for our residents and anyone entering the property," said Township Supervisor Robert Nix.

Northville State Hospital

Northville State Hospital | Photo © 2020 Sugarbomb

Crews began removing the asbestos from the old buildings on a floor by floor basis and demolition began on buildings A and B in December 2018. Rather than an implosion, the buildings were taken down from the top down as the removal process was completed. Demolition had only been completed on the two main buildings, leaving fifteen others scattered throughout the property. "Our residents will soon be able to view the skyline on Seven Mile with that blight to our community removed," said Nix.

In 2020, the fifteen remaining buildings still decay throughout the property, rapidly being concealed by overgrowth. The road that connected the buildings on the surface is cracked and impassable in some places and the only remaining (living) residents of the Northville State Hospital are a bunch of deer that can be seen grazing in the evenings and a group of wild turkeys that roam the grounds.

Northville State Hospital

A group of wild turkeys on the grounds of Northville State Hospital | Photo © 2020 Sugarbomb

I would like to dedicate this page to Lunarbomb, who I believed was losing her mind and hallucinating the entire week because she kept telling me she was seeing turkeys all around Detroit. Joke's on me. Turns out there actually are wild turkeys that roam around Detroit and surrounding towns.

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