View from the large lawn below the front of the school
The Halcyon Hall complex was built in 1893 by H.J. Davison Jr with the intention of being a luxury hotel that would be Mohonk Mountain’s main competitor. The hotel had five stories with 200 rooms, a basement and a sub-basement. Unfortunately, when the hotel didn’t have the success they anticipated within the first five years, they were forced to file for bankruptcy. It wasn’t until 1907 that the building was purchased and converted into a school by May Bennett, the educator who operated the Irvington Bennett School in Westchester County.
When the school opened that year, affluent families across the country were applying to send their daughters to the new Dutchess County location of the Bennett School for Girls. 120 students were enrolled and 29 faculty members were hired. The Bennett School for Girls initially had a six year course of study which was divided by four years of high school and two years of higher study.
Stage area on the main floor that was later replaced by the auditorium pictured below
Picture taken from the light and sound box above the large auditorium
The former hotel rooms of Halcyon Hall were easily converted into lavish dormitories and the campus even had horse stables, a library, outdoor theater, indoor auditorium, tennis courts, putting green, gymnasium, and chapel. Because of the expansive amenities, students were encouraged to participate in leisurely activities while living on campus.
Eventually the high school program was eliminated and converted into a junior college program. After the transition, the school was renamed Bennett College. The college offered a wide variety of classes including art, fashion design, interior design, music, modern language, literature, history, dance, child development, and domestic science.
Open room at the end of the second floor hallway on the east wing
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the rise in popularity of coeducation created problems for all girls and all boys schools. The school’s significant drop in enrollment led to the attempt to upgrade the programs and facilities in hopes of remaining afloat in a time of growing coed schools. In 1972 the state of the art Kettering Science Center was completed but sadly the cost of the new science center as well as other upgrades to the campus only plunged them deeper into debt.
Large classroom on the top floor
The schools last hope for survival was for Westchester’s Briarcliff Junior College to agree to their collaboration plan but that fell apart in 1977 when Briarcliff decided to merge with Pace University instead. Only a few weeks after the beginning of the 1978 school year, Bennett College filed for bankruptcy and had to permanently close. The students that had already arrived to attend that year or semester were given the opportunity to transfer to Marist College, the co-ed university, a half hour away in Poughkeepsie. Bennett College proudly educated generations of daughters from only the most prominent and affluent family’s for 90 years.
One of the teacher offices
Once the heat was shut off, water pipes burst and caused severe water damage throughout the entire building. Thieves came through after its closure and took anything of value which included some of the materials meant to keep the building standing. As a result, Halcyon Hall began its journey to decay pre-maturely. In the 1980s, the bank made several attempts to develop the property but failed and it was seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in 1991.
Halcyon Hall was scheduled for demolition in 2012 and its less decayed surrounding buildings to be demolished soon after. My visits to Bennett College were between 2011 and 2017 and although the level of security varied each time, the buildings were still standing. The current owners of the 27.5 acres are Thorndale Farm and the Tribute Garden and their main concern is to deal with the safety and environmental issues that go along with demolition rather than following a strict timeline. The property’s numerous owners prior left the buildings and the land in a disastrous state most likely because of their failed security measures.
"Bennett College Ruins: Halcyon To Reinvention." Hudson Valley Sojourner, www.hudsonvalleysojourner.com/blog/bennett-college-millbrook-ny/.
"Bennett School for Girls: College Which Taught America's Privileged Set for Demolition." Kuriositas, 15 Dec. 2012, www.kuriositas.com/2012/12/bennett-school-for-girls-college-which.html.
Chong, Jinwoo. "Inside the Abandoned Campus of the Bennett School for Girls in Millbrook, NY." Untapped Cities, 10 Aug. 2015, untappedcities.com/2015/08/10/inside-the-abandoned-campus-of-the-bennett-school-for-girls-in-millbrook-ny/.
"Halcyon Hall (Bennett College), Millbrook." Roadtrippers, roadtrippers.com/us/millbrook-ny/points-of-interest/halcyon-hall-bennett-college.
Justin. "Bennett School for Girls." Vacant New Jersey, www.vacantnewjersey.com/locations/bennett_school_for_girls/index.html.
Yasinac, Rob. "Halcyon Hall / Bennett School For Girls, Millbrook, NY." Hudson Valley Ruins, 7 Sept. 2011, www.hudsonvalleyruins.org/rob/?p=205.
All photos taken by Sami Fego unless stated otherwise