A majestic relic


Millbrook was settled by Quakers in the middle eighteenth century. What now comprises the village originally had two areas of settlement, Hart's Village and the hamlet of Mechanic. The area known as Hart's Village was centred around the grist mill along the East Branch of the Wappinger Creek off of Hart's Village Road. The building still stands today, and has been converted to an apartment building. The Hamlet of Mechanic is now known as South Millbrook, and is located near the junction of NY route 343 and Old Route 82 (Dutchess County route 111), where the turn monument is.

The village is from the Great Nine Partners Patent, and a street and burial ground at the south east edge of town now bear the name. Prior to the Revolutionary War, what is now known as the Town of Washington was called the Charlotte Precinct.

The Village of Millbrook, as it is known today, was developed around the Dutchess and Columbia railroad train station which was located on the village green. The train station was built in 1870 on the lands of Issac Merritt, who laid out the streets soon thereafter.

Arriving at Halcyon Hall 1908
The main building of Bennett College, Halcyon Hall, was built in 1893 by H. J. Davison Jr., a publisher from New York who decided to build a magnificent hotel that would attract socially prominent people to Millbrook. He wanted Millbrook to be a second Newport, Rhode Island. The 200-room Queen Anne structure was designed by James E. Ware. It has 5 stories, a basement and sub-basement. A luxury hotel constructed of wood and stone. 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. Despite the grandeur, Halcyon Hall failed to catch the popularity it had hoped for.

The men erecting the hotel obtained the fieldstone from the Beverly Howard farm near Mabbettsville.

Mr. and Mrs. Davison Jr. travelled extensively in Europe, and when the hotel was finished, they furnished many of the rooms with paintings and furniture, which they had purchased in different countries. For instance, the Nuremburgh room was furnished with furniture and decorated with paintings from Nuremburgh, Germany.

Halcyon Hall in the background
Mr. and Mrs. Davison were searching for just the right name for the hotel, and Mrs. Davison found it in a poem she was reading. The poem told of a Halcyon place of pleasure.

“That’s it!” she said in excitement, “That’s the name! Halcyon, meaning pleasant place of pleasures.” Mrs. Davison herself told this story many years ago.

Mr. Davison opened Halcyon Hall in 1893 with a Grand Ball that was the most brilliant event of the social season. The Russian Court Orchestra played for the dancing and the ladies wore beautiful gowns that became heirlooms.

Guests came from far and near to enjoy a week or a month at the new hotel. The dining room with its crystal chandeliers was as lovely as any dining room found in the castles of Europe.
Russian Orchestra on Opening Night
In those days, people like to come to the hotel to enjoy the peace and the matchless beauty of the scenery around Millbrook. They loved to ride horseback and there were stables in the vicinity where horses could be rented. Also, there were buggies and carriages, which could be rented.

Ladies liked to spend the afternoon lying in a hammock, hung between two tall trees, reading an exciting book and eating chocolate candy. Gentlemen liked to play golf on a nearby golf course. Couples strolled leisurely along the shady country roads on a summer afternoon.

The guests at Halcyon Hall enjoyed this happy, peaceful life until the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898. Theodore Roosevelt led the gallant Rough Riders up the hill at San Juan in Cuba, and turned the tide of the war in favor of the United States. A recession followed the war and fewer and fewer guests came to Halcyon Hall. However, the recession was not the real reason fewer guests were coming to Halcyon Hall.
The members of the socially prominent set grew tired of spending quiet vacations in the country. They decided to go to the seashore, and engage in water sports, or travel to Europe. 

The guests at Halcyon Hall were eventually so few that the delightful hotel was forced into bankruptcy. It remained vacant, waiting for some to buy it, and make it again, “the Heart of Millbrook”.

Source: Newspaper Article Millbrook Round Table July 25, 1984

Bennett School
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. She decided to make it an all-girls school, because there were few good schools for girls. Miss Bennett’s school became popular, and parents living in all parts of the country sent their daughters there. 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. 

Students wearing dresses made by themselves
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. Majors of study included art, fashion design, interior design, music, modern languages, literature, history, dance, drama, child development, equine studies, and domestic science. Activities at Bennett included gymnastics, golf, tennis, horseback riding and skiing. The school was home to a full-time teaching Nursery School for 3 and 4 year olds as well as a riding stable.

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. The Bennett campus also included a chapel, stables, dormitories, an outdoor theatre and a state of the art science building completed just before the school closed in 1978. 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 offering two year degrees had left the college in financial distress.

The cost of constructing the science building, needed to comply with new state science education requirements, along with other campus upgrades contributed to the school’s decline. 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 artefacts including the entire library was moved to the Millbrook Free Library.

Halcyon Hall was never reopened and quickly fell into ruin. When the heat was turned off water pipes burst causing major water damage throughout the building. Large portions of the roof have collapsed and trees can be seen growing through parts of the building. Halcyon Hall remains in this state as of 2013. Several attempts were made in the 1980s to develop the property but all failed and the title was taken over by a savings-bank subsidiary. The bank failed in 1991 and its assets were seized by the FDIC. The main building, Halcyon Hall, was later placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Halcyon Hall has come in for a lot of publicity the last few years. Every time someone plans to convert the Bennett Complex into a useful and profitable operation, discussion follows on how to include Halcyon Hall.

The town of Millbrook has been working with developers to raze Halcyon Hall and make way for new condominiums. 

Travel east from Ploughkeepsie NY on Route 44, Come to the light at the junction of Route 44, County Route 82, and County Route 343.