Home > History of Wine > The vineyard at the Northern Michigan Asylum

The vineyard at the Northern Michigan Asylum


South Entrance, Northern Michigan Asylum, c. 1906. Image from upnorthmemories (flickr).

South Entrance, Northern Michigan Asylum, c. 1906. Image from upnorthmemories (flickr).

When I write of vineyards and grapes I typically focus on those farmed with the intention of producing wine.  I sometimes blur the lines to include references to vineyards and vines that produce table or dessert grapes.  I accept this broadening when it comes to such subjects as 17th century British winemaking where the documentary references may so weak that we do not yet know if wine was made or not.  I cannot help but wonder if some people dabbled at making wine.  Parallel to my interest in the employment of prison labor in vineyards is that of asylum vineyards.  Whether actual patients participated in the various vineyards is yet to be seen but it is possible because not all attendees were acutely sick in-patients, there were out-patients as well.  Also to be determined is the extent that a vineyard represented the physical manifestation of laboring in the Lord’s vineyard.  In following yesterday’s picture from Michigan, this post focuses in on the Northern Michigan Asylum.

Willow Lake Asylum Grounds, Northern Michigan Asylum. c. 1906. Image from upnorthmemories (flickr).

Willow Lake Asylum Grounds, Northern Michigan Asylum. c. 1906. Image from upnorthmemories (flickr).

The Northern Michigan Asylum was organized in 1881 and located in Traverse City, Michigan.  By 1908 it had grown to encompass treating almost 1,400 patients across 42 buildings located on over 700 acres of land.  The asylum itself developed from simply housing the “insane” to include a hospital and research laboratories.  While the asylum received money from the state it also worked towards self-sufficiency.  The land was cleared to provide a lake, forests, gardens, orchards, and general farm land.  The farm and gardens were first established.  The orchards and vineyard were planted in 1890s then expanded  between 1894 and 1896.  By 1896 there were 100 vines bearing fruit.  That same year a grasshopper plague did “irreparable damage to the vineyard”.  Exactly how many vines were destroyed is unknown.  Prospects must have improved for in 1898 it was anticipated that in a few years, the fruit needs of the asylum would be fully met.  By 1908 there were 1352 grapevines in the vineyard.  It seems clear, in this case, that the vineyard was for the production of table grapes.

Potential vineyard in the middle farm scene. c. 1910. [3]

Potential vineyard in the middle farm scene. c. 1910. [3]

This of course leaves the question, did the patients work in the vineyard?  That is not yet known but it is documented that more land was needed “upon which patients may be employed, preparing and cultivating”.  Perhaps patients did work amongst the vines to promote “activity and interest” in an effort to improve and cure.


[1] Joint Documents of the State of Michigan, Volume 4. 1896. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=LfRBAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[2] Biennial Report of the Michigan State Board of Corrections and Charities, Volume 14. Michigan State Board of Corrections and Charities. 1899. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=3SwMAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] Report of the Board of Trustees, Michigan State Hospital, Traverse City. 1908. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=VtMYAQAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Categories: History of Wine
  1. May 4, 2016 at 10:56 am

    This is extremely interesting. I’ve been researching the asylum, having just found out that a relative died there in 1913. If you look at the wikipedia entry it indicates that Dr. Munson had the patients work the farms, make furniture, can fruits and vegetables, so I think it is highly likely that they indeed process the grapes (although with the number of inmates being treated for alcohol-related insanity, they probably weren’t making wine!)

    I’m glad I found this — on my blog (The Marmelade Gypsy) I have a tab at the top on Cork Poppers, our wine tasting group. Some of the articles in your side bar look really interesting and I’ll be back to read on in more detail!

  1. November 3, 2014 at 9:03 am

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