For several years we have been covering abandoned hospitals, schools, shipyard, and other buildings, and are continually struck by the eerie, calm beauty of each site. Another such site is the abandoned Bennett Girls’ School, once called Bennett College until the 1970s, but it is perhaps one of the scariest places we’ve seen so far. The simple silhouette it hits against the sky is reminiscent of a cross between a mysterious Gothic mansion and a haunted castle.
Formerly a luxury hotel and lodge for the elite, then a preparatory school for women that struggled with the rise of coeducational education, and now a slowly aging and dilapidated structure in Millbrook, New York, one of the wealthiest cities in the country, the Bennett School for Girls is frequented primarily by urban explorers and photographers, as well as those who visit and work there in conjunction with its new owners. Its rooms and halls, stripped of artifacts by the Millbrook Free Library, are empty, but traces of ancient splendor remain.
The main building, called Halcyon Room, was built in 1890 with plans for a luxury hotel, a personal project of the wealthy New York publisher HJ Davidson Jr. The hotel was to be both a home and a museum, bringing together books and artifacts from all over the world. Opacity.us, an urban exploration site, characterized the original building as a retreat, intended for the wealthy to hide and snuggle up among the comfortable rooms and nooks of the Hall with a good book. the Building designed by James E. Ware, which included 200 rooms over 5 floors, was constructed using dark wood panels and stone typical of the Queen Anne style evoked by the building.
Photo of Wikimedia Commons
Unfortunately, the hotel never took. In 1901, Halcyon Hall closed due to a lack of interest and growing debt. It was in 1907 that May F. Bennett, a teacher from Irvington, New York, moved her girls’ school to the building and the grounds. Bennett School for Girls enrolled approximately 120 students at a time. The girls studied there for six years, four in high school and two more years serving as graduate studies. Meanwhile, the Bennett School added a chapel, stables, dormitory, and open-air theater to the campus. At the beginning of the 20th century, the school abolished its high school classes and became a college, becoming officially known as Bennett College.
The transition to junior college brought even more changes to the campus, including the construction of Gage Hall, which still stands today, and the stucco Alumnae Hall, a dormitory. A library was built next to Gage Hall in 1956.
Photo of Wikimedia Commons
In the 1970s, college struggled to stay relevant with the advent of generalized coeducational colleges. He incurred a mountain of debt while trying to convert the school into a four-year college. Bennett College attempted to merge with neighboring Briarcliffe Manor, but negotiations failed and the school went bankrupt in 1977. The building was closed and its furniture, books, equipment and other items were transferred to the city library. It has been empty since.
In 1993, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. However, in 2014, the entire complex was slated for demolition, despite numerous protests from the community. Development groups linked to the Thorne family, a prominent local family involved in real estate, purchased the property with the intention of creating a park and dividing the property into eight plots. The objective was “to prevent a development which we believe would not be beneficial to our village,” according to George T. Whalen III, administrator of the Millbrook Tribute Garden Foundation, one of the groups linked to the Thorne family who bought the property. at Poughkeepsie’s Journal in 2014.
In the plan, the original Halcyon Hall would be razed and many of its ancillary buildings repurposed by other interested buyers. That being said, eight years later, Halycyon Hall continues to slowly collapse. There is no estimate at this time of how long the old Bennett College will remain standing, but its demolition will be a sad event. Although collapsing, the building, with its intact woodwork and impressive facade, was truly a sight to behold.