For several years now, we’ve covered abandoned hospitals, schools, shipyards, and other buildings, and are continually struck by each site’s eerie, quiet beauty. The abandoned Bennett School for Girls, once called Bennett College up until the 1970s, is another one of those sites, but is perhaps one of the creepiest places we’ve seen so far. The mere silhouette it strikes against the sky brings to mind a cross between a Gothic murder mystery mansion and and a haunted castle.
Once a luxury hotel and lodge for the elite, then an all-women’s preparatory school that fell on hard times with the rise of co-ed education, and now a gently aging and dilapidated structure in Millbrook, New York, one of the most affluent towns in the country, the Bennett School for girls is mostly frequented by urban explorers and photographers, along with those who visit and work there in connection with its newest owners. Its rooms and halls, stripped for artifacts by the Millbrook Free Library, are empty, but hints of former splendor remain.
The main building, called Halcyon Hall, was built in 1890 with plans for a luxury hotel, a personal project taken on by wealthy New York publisher H.J. Davidson Jr. The hotel was to be part lodgings, part museum, collecting books and artifacts from around the world. Opacity.us, an urban exploration site, characterized the original building as a retreat, meant for the wealthy to hide away and curl up among the Hall’s cozy rooms and nooks with a good book. The James E. Ware designed building, which included 200 rooms in 5 stories, was built using dark wood panels and stone typical of the Queen Anne style the building evoked.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Unfortunately, the hotel never caught on. In 1901, Halcyon Hall closed due to lack of interest and spiraling debt. It was in 1907 that May F. Bennett, a schoolteacher from Irvington, New York, moved her school for girls into the building and grounds. The Bennett School for Girls enrolled around 120 students at a time. Girls there studied for six years, four in high school and 2 additional years serving as higher study. During this time, The Bennett School added to the campus a chapel, stables, dormitory, and outdoor theatre. In the early 20th century, the school did away with its high school classes and became a junior 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 adjacent to Gage Hall in 1956.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
In the 1970s, the college struggled to stay relevant with the advent of widespread coed colleges. It brought on itself a mountain of debt from attempting to convert the school into a four year college. Bennett College attempted to merge with the nearby Briarcliffe Manor, but negotiations failed and the school went bankrupt in 1977. The building was closed and its furniture, books, equipment, and other artifacts were moved to the town’s library. It has been empty ever since.
In 1993, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, in 2014, the entire complex was slated for demolition, despite many community protests. Development groups connected with the Thorne family, a prominent local family involved in real estate, purchased the property with plans to create a park and split the property into eight parcels. The goal was to “prevent development that we feel would not be beneficial for our village,” according to George T. Whalen III, a trustee of the Millbrook Tribute Garden foundation one of the groups connected to the Thorne family that purchased the property who spoke to the Poughkeepsie Journal in 2014.
In the plan, the original Halcyon Hall would be razed and many of its auxiliary buildings repurposed by other interested buyers. That being said, eight years later, Halycyon Hall remains slowly collapsing. There is no estimate as of now to how long the former Bennett College will remain standing, but its demolition will be a sad occurrence. Though falling apart, the building, with its intact wood paneling and impressive facade, was truly a sight to see.