Most abandoned buildings have the makings of a double dare. They’re prime opportunities for us to offer our friends the chance of legendary status if they run through the bathrooms calling Bloody Mary’s name. The building formerly known as the Bennett School for Girls is no exception: it’s enough to make the goosebumps rise on virtually anyone’s arms.
Located in Millbrook, New York, the Bennett School for Girls wasn’t originally a school at all; rather, it was opened in 1893 as a luxury hotel. New York Publisher H.J. Davidson Jr. developed the main building, Halcyon Hall, as a pet project. He intended this building to not only host the wealthy, but also offer a museum, a library full of world artifacts, and a place for them to escape the rat race (the 4 p.m. stagecoach rush-hour and what not).
Despite Davidson Jr.’s vision, the hotel never really took off and it was forced to close its doors. Then, in 1907, new life sprung: May F. Bennett, a schoolteacher from Irvington, moved her school onto the grounds. Thus, the Bennett School for Girls had a new home.
The school was a hybrid between high school and college: girls studied there for six years, four in high school and two in higher studies. The campus was expanded to meet the needs of the 120 students – more dormitories, stables, an outdoor theater, and a chapel were added. A few years later, the school dropped its high school curriculum and fully became a junior college, renaming itself Bennett College.
The school eventually closed in 1978, after it’d educated generations of women born into America’s most prosperous families. At the time of closing, approximately three hundred students were enrolled and the areas of study were diverse. Art, fashion design, music, literature, child development, domestic science, drama, dance, and equine studies were just a few.
Its closure was due to the popularity of coeducation, the progression of colleges to snub their noses at the risk of cooties and let men and women attend together. The Bennett College actually attempted to adapt – they upgraded their facilities and converted to co-ed in the mid-seventies.
They even attempted to merge with Briarcliff College, a plan that fell through when Briarcliff ultimately merged with Pace University. Bennett filed for bankruptcy and closed its campus shortly after. The timing wasn’t ideal, as the incoming freshman had already arrived for orientation. The students were given the option of transferring to Marist College, a nearby school in Poughkeepsie.
Today, the campus is totally vacant, as the Millbrook Free Library is in possession of all the remaining books and materials. Still, this doesn’t stop the curious from entering, nodding at the No Trespassing signs as they yank open the doors. There is some risk involved, as the condition of the structure makes it dangerous to set foot upon the floors. Of course, the rumors that it’s haunted are also rampant, with people reporting mysteriously creaks behind them.
In the nineties, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it untouchable by bulldozers and land developers. That stance changed recently, despite protests from the community, and was slotted for demolition in 2014.
As of right now, the building remains, though plans to split it into eight parcels have been solidified. With its existence up in the air, anyone hoping to stop by for a history lesson better do so soon.