Mt. Pleasant Center

A Controversial History Part 1: Art from the Mt. Pleasant Center

Introduction

The combined properties of the former Mt. Pleasant Center and the Mt. Pleasant Indian and Industrial Boarding School total 313 acres of mature hardwoods, fields (farmed by Native children and later, residents with disabilities), and a park-like campus.  

On the east-end are the old buildings of the Indian Boarding School, and the west-end there is a Native American cemetery. In the middle was the Mt. Pleasant Center.  The Center buildings are razed now, and the boarding school buildings are now owned by the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe.

A winter watercolor scene of a building with White Pine trees. Painting illustrates the blog.
Building 405 where my office was located shortly before closure. Residents lived there also.

The Mt. Pleasant Center 

The Mt. Pleasant Center was the last of Michigan’s institutions for people diagnosed with developmental disabilities-many with behavioral or health issues that at the time made it difficult for them to live in the community. The Center was built on land that had once been the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School, which will be the subject of my next blog. 

I worked as a case manager for the Center between 1998 and up until 2009 when Lansing announced the closure. During that time I worked with some of the most caring and hardworking individuals I have ever knew-and some not so stellar. 

The Center closure was a controversial but an important trend to integrate and not isolate people with developmental disabilities. Past abuses and horrid conditions were well documented.  Others saw institutional closure as reducing choices and putting loved ones at risk in a community not prepared with supports and services. This blog post isn’t to argue the past but to show contradictions on how working at a place that had such a mixed past and outmoded treatment modalities could be part of a beautiful outdoor environment 

Center Artwork

My job as a case manager could be extremely stressful and at times dangerous-for staff and residents. To de-stress during breaks or after work, I often wandered the forests and fields of the campus grounds with my camera and art supplies. Knowing the history of this place was a catalyst for some of my favorite artwork. The following are some of the paintings and photos done on the grounds which is now closed to the public.

The Incinerator

In between the Center and the boarding school was an old incinerator that nobody remembered it being operational- which encouraged some horrible speculative stories.  I am not sure which institution used it or if both did. Although ugly, it was an interesting structure with the brick, rust, and cast-iron metal and a dark past. I love painting pretty pictures, but I also am interested in less appealing subject matter.

watercolor of an old incinerator
I painted the structure first and then threw wet paint on it and scrubbed the paper-a very visceral way of painting I enjoy.

Photos

When I didn’t have time to paint, I often took pictures. I had just got a new digital point and shoot and practiced my photography skills often while taking breaks. Sometimes I went back in the evening. Many of these photos could also be placed in my Indian Boarding School blog but I tend to associate these locals with the Mt. Pleasant Center. 

Conclusion

I think often of my time working at the Mt. Pleasant Center and wonder what happened to the people who lived there.  The Center is now owned by the city of Mt. Pleasant, and like many of the locals, we are waiting to see what the city will do with this beautiful piece of property. 

For more information about the Mt. Pleasant Center, see the City of Mt. Pleasant Article and one by the Morning Sun.

4 Responses

  1. OH, my God I loved looking at this!! I have spent hours walking the grounds, and into the woods. What were you doing with an office in Cottage 5

  2. Beautiful paintings and photos.

    I remember this place. I lived in Mt P 1969-1977 while attending CMU and after. I worked for DSS. During college, I worked summers at a similar facility in Lapeer. It was challenging and difficult work. I also faced negative staff attitudes as I was willing to do more than the “minimum”.

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