Bennett School for Girls
Located in Millbrook, NY
Photo © 2004 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Bennett School for Girls History
This school was originally constructed in 1890 as Halcyon Hall - a luxury hotel constructed of wood and stone dreamed up by publisher H.J. Davison Jr. Filled with books and curios from around the world, the hotel was a retreat that featured beautiful carved wooden pillars, balconies, and small niches to steal a quick read or nap. The building had been designed in the elaborate Victorian Queen Anne style by James E. Ware, and consisted of 200 rooms in 5 stories, plus a basement and sub-basement. Despite the grandeur, Halcyon Hall failed to catch the popularity it had hoped for. It closed in 1901, and stood vacant until another a buyer was found eight years later.
The Bennett School for Girls, originally founded in Irvington N.Y. by Miss May Bennett, found Halcyon Hall quite suitable as a new home in 1907. The school had been in operation for seventeen years and had 120 students, most from prominent families. These women took a six year course of study - four years of high school and two years of higher study. Language, culture, and fine arts were stressed in the curriculum. In the early 20th century, the school eliminated high school courses and became a junior college, offering two year degrees.
A number of addition and modification took place at Halcyon Hall during the college years. In 1926, a northern service wing which formed part of the courtyard was demolished and replaced with the present-day Gage Hall. The new wing had originally held dormitory rooms, but was converted into classrooms, offices, and other facilities in later years. In 1952, the stucco Alumnae Hall added as a west wing dormitory. In 1956, the Ella Buffington Library was built out of the east wall of Gage Hall.
Bennett College found itself struggling to survive in the 1970s as the popularity of coeducation steadily grew. A major movement to upgrade the school into a four year college had left the college in financial distress. An attempt to merge with nearby Briarcliff Manor failed, and Bennett College entered bankruptcy in 1977. The school was closed for good one year later, and many school artifacts including the entire library was moved to the Millbrook Free Library.
Several attempt to redevelop the property failed in the 1980s, and the title was acquired by a savings bank subsidiary. When the bank went out of business in 1991, its assets including Bennett College were seized by the FDIC. An agreement was reached to place Halcyon Hall on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
In 2014, the Bennett College campus has been sold by Bennett Acquisitions to The Thorne Farm LLC and the Millbrook Tribute Garden foundation, "in order to prevent development that we feel would not be beneficial to our village'' to quote Oakleigh Thorne. The almost thirty acre parcel will be partially converted to a park as an addendum of the nearby Tribute Gardens in the village. Halcyon Hall is to be demolished "in a safe manner,with the hopes of keeping the stonework intact and create a park-like atmosphere." according to foundation trustee George Whalen III. The eight separate parcels will be subsequently developed in accordance with a "long term plan that makes sense for the community", after consultation with planning professionals and the input of Millbrook residents. A demolition firm is to be hired to demolish Halcyon Hall. Also likely to be demolished is the Harkaway Theater (originally the hotel's stable in 1893), and the two cottages Hale and Hillside House. Likely to be saved is the 1920s Tudor chapel. Plans for the Kettering Science Center are uncertain. It could be part of a quasi-commercial function of parts of the former campus, depending upon the final plans.