Halcyon Days: Why An Abandoned Girls College Should Get The Big Send Off It Deserves
This ultra-creepy old school is finally seeing its last days. So take a look at it one last time before these ruins become rubble.
The once-majestic-but-now-decaying Bennett College for Girls—located on the outskirts of the idyllic Dutchess County village of Millbrook—has long been a deliciously spooky lure for photographers, urban explorers and creepy house fanatics. And why not? It’s the perfect candidate: crumbling buildings, horror-movie vibes that only come from deserted institutions and an ambiguous set of land rights (easy access is everything).
The property’s unique attributes have been well-documented in photographs, but none have struck a chord more than the recent album shot by Hudson Valley-based snapper Sébastien Barré—in no small part because the property’s current owners have confirmed, once and for all, that the building’s demise is set in stone, even if it’s not exactly on the horizon.
Once the go-to school for well-bred young ladies all over the East Coast, Bennett closed its doors for the final time in 1978, after years of rapid expansion and dwindling attendance left the school’s board in financial straits. Failed attempts were made to develop the buildings in the 1980s, and in 1993, the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
However, anyone who’s ever spent a winter upstate will tell you that the weather can be a brute, and after almost four decades of bone-shaking cold, traffic-stopping blizzards and roof-rattling winds, the once prestigious property fell into a deep—and irreversible—decline. Ceilings caved in, walls fell and nature began to reclaim the land, with vines creeping through windows and animals setting up homes in the scant furniture left behind.
It’s a sad final act for a building that started life as a luxury hotel. Built in 1893 by New York publisher H.J Davidson Jr., the inn—its main building named Halcyon Hall—was designed to be a competitor to Mohonk Mountain House, the luxury spa located on the Shawagunk Ridge in Ulster County, just across the Hudson river, built by Quaker brothers Albert and Alfred Smiley. But after the venture failed to take off, the buildings were purchased by May F. Bennett, an educator who had been running the Bennett School for Girls in nearby Westchester County since 1890. Upon seeing Halcyon Hall, Bennett decided it would be the perfect place to expand her school, and the students moved in to the five-story, 200-room building in 1907.
After acquiring the 8 parcels of land that make up the 27.5 acre site in 2014, local business Thorndale Farm LLC, in conjunction with Millbrook Tribute Garden, established plans to turn the property into a public park, transforming what is widely considered by the town’s residents to be an eyesore back into a local landmark. But even though plans are underway, unravelling the complex land rights of a plot that has been extensively modified, expanded and neglected over a century has been, needless to say, a little complicated.
So, with the building’s execution date hanging over the town like Trump’s debate stance, shouldn’t Bennett get the big send-off it deserves? Perhaps the town could welcome indie festival extraordinaire ATP into its midst, for one last send-off, just like Kutsher’s Hotel, nestled in the Catskill Mountains, did after years with no visitors. Or perhaps Bennett will finally be immortalized in film, just like eerie Staten Island TB sanitarium Seaview Hospital was in 90s creep-fest Jacob’s Ladder. A property this beautiful, this steeped in history … it can’t just fizzle out. Can it?
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