A majestic relic

In the News

Education: Closing Colleges
Monday, Aug. 15, 1977 
Briarcliff& Bennett go into bankruptcy.

Last April Briarcliff College—a small, private and long financially troubled women's college near White Plains, N.Y. —sold its 55-acre campus out from under some 300 students. But rather than die outright or be absorbed by burgeoning Pace University, which had bought the facility for its nearby Westchester campus, homeless Briarcliff proposed a desperate sort of scholastic piggyback. It hoped to share its remaining faculty and students with yet another small, private and financially strapped women's college: Bennett, a two-year junior college with 230 students. Under the tentative plan, Briarcliffwould attract many of its undergraduates to Bennett's underpopulated Millbrook, N.Y., campus; Bennett graduates could thereafter enrol in Briarcliff for their final two years, and both institutions might be saved.

But the scheme collapsed. Two weeks ago, after Briarcliff s efforts to lure enough students to the new site proved futile, the New York Board of Regents dissolved the 75-year-old school's charter. Bennett, which filed bankruptcy proceedings last spring, will almost surely close down this week too. Meanwhile, a standing deficit has forced a third private women's college in New York State, twelve-year-old Kirkland, to merge next year with coordinate Hamilton College, a 165-year-old, previously all-male College in Clinton.

Though many private colleges are having a hard time in the U.S. These days, the summer blackout rate for women's colleges seems confined to New York. The Women's College Coalition in Washington, D.C., which represents two-thirds of U.S. women's colleges, reports that financial headaches are no better or worse than has been usual of late among its 67 members.

Bennett School for Girls
Originally built in 1890 as a resort, Halcyon Hall very quickly came to a different use. By 1900 it had become the "Bennett Finishing School For Young Women", the name and purpose by which it died...

James E. Ware was the chief architect behind the grand hall's majestic lines and form. Constructed primarily in wood and stone, the structure has equal parts elegance and frailty to it. Ornate carvings can still be found adorning the corners and peaks, reminding passers by that it once stood with dignity upon its hilltop.

The Bennett School's purpose was the teaching of fine arts and language for young women, most of which were the daughters of industrialists, bank presidents, and other "well-to-do" people of the time. Bennett was the kind of place where you would find afternoon tea.

As time progressed, and minds opened, the Bennett school began to be cast in a sexist light. No longer was it proper for young women to attend finishing school, it was immoral. To battle this, and to attempt to change its course as a house of learning, in the 1970's the school expanded from a 2-year, to a 4-year college. Sadly, these additions and expanded curriculum only delayed the inevitable, and Bennett sealed its doors in 1977.

Some places hold on to time differently than others.

Within the halls of Bennett it is still an era of floor-length dresses, horseback riding, bonnets, and the long forgotten art of the curtsy. The very fibres of the decaying wood walls excrete these ideals, and cast them in long shadows across the filth-covered floors. The smell of lavender and the sound of softly played piano are almost expected, even in the damp and the dark, which have so gently replaced them.

Millbrook's Halcyon Hall; Good Deal for a 19th-Century Landmark
Alan Zale for The New York Times, Published: August 8, 1993

There may be halcyon days ahead after all for the vacant and decaying Halcyon Hall in Millbrook, N.Y. The 200-room Queen Anne style 19th-century building had been the subject of a dispute between preservation groups and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. 

An agreement reached late last month allows the listing of the hall and its adjacent chapel on the National Register of Historic Places and marketing of the property by preservation groups for nine months, beginning Aug. 18, with binding historic-preservation covenants. It also calls for repairing and stabilizing the Dutchess Country property. It settles a lawsuit filed last November against the F.D.I.C. on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation League of New York and the Friends of Halcyon Hall. 

David R. Sloan, executive director of the Friends of Halcyon Hall, said that under the agreement if no buyer was found in the nine-month period the plaintiffs could buy the property themselves for only $100 or could convey the property to anyone they designated for the same sum. 

Andrew Porterfield, an F.D.I.C. spokesman, said the agency was "happy to have a settlement that means the property can be taken care of." 

Built as a luxury hotel in 1893 by H. J. Davison Jr., a publisher, and designed by James E. Ware, Halcyon Hall eventually became the main building of Bennett College. The college closed in 1978. After unsuccessful development attempts, the title was taken over by a savings-bank subsidiary. The bank failed in 1991, its assets wound up in the hands of the F.D.I.C., which, to keep its marketing options open, opposed placing the hall on the National Register. 

Mr. Sloan said that several cultural groups had expressed interest in the property. "There are no back taxes," he said. "It's all free and clear."

Haunting photos reveal sad ruins of a prestigious New York girls school left abandoned for more than 30 years
By Laura Cox 8th May 2012-05-08 www.dailymail.co.uk
These are the haunting images of a once-privileged Millbrook school abandoned and left to rot. Set  atop a steep hill, the imposing Halcyon Hall of Bennett college looks sure to harbour a lifetime of secrets and debauchery. Having served as the main building of the all-girls private school for almost a century, one can only imagine the secrets these decaying walls hold.

The building’s crumbling façade is weather-worn and battered, with glass-less windows and mossy walls. There are no neighbouring properties in sight of its desolate location, where it once stood proud and prestigious, originally designed as a luxury hotel. Tape recorders, old desks and battered sofas remain in the shell of Bennett college, strewn across the decaying building as an eerie reminder of the life that was there before the school closed its doors in 1978. A door marked ‘H-212C’ adds to the mystery of the building’s past – what went on behind it?

But that piece of history will soon be lost forever, as the old school building is set to be demolished any day now. Parts of the school have maintained their former glory, like a grand looking staircase that just needs a quick sweep but much of it is already destroyed, with holes in
walls and the roof casting beams of light onto dusty, splintered floors. And vandals have had a go at the sad old building, too, with graffiti scrawled across many of the walls. 

Photographer Steven Bley went inside the decaying building, which has been fenced off since last August to take the harrowing images. He was told that demolition is imminent.

Hope Dims for Saving a Millbrook Mansion
By ANDREE BROOKS Published: December 29, 1991 The New York Times

DECAY chips relentlessly at Halcyon Hall, a vast and vacant 200-room mansion built in the Tudor style that for nearly a century has towered over the rustic village homes of Millbrook, N.Y, like a lord over his serfs. But the market is weak and government agencies are feuding, and a result is that the building may be beyond repair -- assuming there is anyone ready to undertake that task.

Halcyon Hall may become one of the more dramatic examples in the Northeast of the architectural losses in prospect as agencies like the Resolution Trust Corporation, charged with disposing of thousands of foreclosed properties as efficiently and economically as possible, overwhelm other agencies seeking to preserve these symbols of the nation's history.

For the last year, Halycon Hall has been snared in a controversy pitting the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation against the goals of the National Register of Historic Places. The F.D.I.C., through its marketing agency, has been trying to block the Hall's nomination as a landmark to keep marketing options wide open. The New York State Office of Historic Preservation has continued to champion the nomination, arguing that it could help keep Halycon Hall standing.

Friends of Halcyon Hall, a group organized to save the Hall, maintains that such feuding has not only held up the nomination but also has resulted in fewer attempts to stabilize the structure. "It's already open to the elements and anyone can just walk in," said David Sloan, the group's executive director.

Similar clashes are occurring over historic buildings in such places as Colorado, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia. And lawyers say it may be a long time before a definitive conclusion can be reached on whose objectives take precedent.

In the meantime, said Andrea Ferster, an assistant general counsel to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a private, non-profit organization, "agencies like the R.T.C. and F.D.I.C. are not even making minimal efforts to maintain the historic properties they have in inventory."

Instead, she maintained, they are selling to the highest bidder. "They're certainly not insisting on the kind of protective covenants other Federal agencies put in place before they sell off the historic buildings they might own," she added.

Properties she is monitoring that she insists are facing such problems include an opera house in Telluride, Colo., and an old Spanish mission in San Augustine, Tex.

But Andrew Porterfield, a spokesman for the F.D.I.C., said that, in general, his agency did not "just let these properties rot while we're preparing them for sale." He also said the agency gives preservation groups a 60-day exclusive marketing period for all historic properties and provides 100 percent financing.

KATE SPEARS, a spokeswoman for the R.T.C., said it also routinely alerts local preservation groups before placing such properties on the market. In fact, she noted, a building in in a Biloxi, Miss., historic district was recently given free to a community group after a determination that the
building would have "no redeeming recovery value."

Preservationists, however, are seeking legislation to force the agencies to take more substantial steps to preserve historic structures in their inventory. One of the first proposals, sponsored by Representative Bruce F. Vento of Minnesota and Peter Hoagland of Nebraska, both Democrats, would require the R.T.C. to maintain historic properties at the same standard as when they were first received into inventory.

The amendment was dropped but a spokesman for Mr. Vento said the Represented intended to reintroduce it in March.

It is little wonder, then, that future of Halcyon Hall, caught in the middle of the agency wars, appears far from halcyon. It historic significance, however, is in little doubt. "Its an absolute landmark," insisted Gary Ciferri, Mayor of Millbrook, a well-to-do town noted for its horse-breeders.

Utilizing expensive cobblestone foundations, half timbering, leaded-glass windows, patterned wood shingles, towers and broad terraces, the main structure was built in the 1890's as a luxury hotel combined with a country retreat for Henry J. Davison Jr, a publisher. But it was soon turned into a girls' finishing school and eventually became Bennett College.

It has been empty since Bennett College went bankrupt in 1978. It was then repossessed by the New York Bank for Savings and has been mired in financial problems since.

The subsequent owner also defaulted before doing anything with the property. Once again it was repossessed by the New York Bank for Savings. In 1983, James J. O'Dea, a Millbrook developer and civil engineer, bought the 34-acre campus and its 250,000 square feet of buildings from the bank for about $10 a square foot and a willingness to pay off $700,000 in unpaid property taxes.

He turned the newer dormitories into Halcyon Village, a 38-unit condominium complex completed in the mid-80's. He took the president's house and 7 acres for his own use. And he planned to turn the original buildings into a conference center at an estimated cost of $9 million.

Although the town was behind the idea ("we would have even entertained tax incentives," said Mr. Ciferri), Mr. O'Dea's ambitious plans never materalized. He sold the Hall in 1989 together with some of the remaining "smaller pieces" for $2 million to a development affiliate of Mechanics and Farmers Savings Bank of Bridgeport, Conn. New talk of redevelopment began, "but no formal proposals were received," said Mr. Ciferri. In October 1991 the Bridgeport bank failed and certain assets it owned, including Halcyon Hall, fell to the F.D.I.C.

In December the New York State Office of Historic Preservation approved the hall's nomination to the National Register -- put forward by the local preservation group in the spring of 1991. The agency eventually went ahead, said Lloyd Adams, its counsel, since the objections did not come from a private owner. Only a private owner can legitimately object to a nomination, he asserted.

Mr. O'Dea considers the move suicidal, arguing that nomination will deter a buyer since it could add "at least $3 million" to any redevelopment program and thus may further depress the appeal of the hall. And George T. Whalen, Jr., president of the Bank of Millbrook, thinks that after a decade of decay, chances of redeeming the hall are dim even though its probable market value is now nominal, given the tight commercial lending climate.

But Friends of Halcyon Hall haven't given up. They are trying to interest developers even though they do not have ownership. They are working with local officials to create more specific tax incentives. And they are trying to force the F.D.I.C. to better maintain it.

"We're going to give it our best shot," said Mr. Sloan.

Dilapidated hall in Millbrook to make way for park and more
Craig Wolf, Ploighkeepsie Journal May 13 2014

Today, the future of the former Bennett College campus looms as large as it has for the 36 years since the college closed, but with renewed hopes. It is now in the hands of local people the whole town knows.

Two locally prominent groups announced Tuesday they had bought eight parcels, making up 27.5 acres of the campus at the Village of Millbrook's front door. All who pass are greeted with the eye-catching eyesore of the tattered and derelict centerpiece of the school, an 1893 former hotel known as Halcyon Hall.

That will come down, the new owners say. Part of the land will become a park. The rest awaits a planning process that they say will be one that "makes the best sense for the community."

The news was bittersweet for some. Jody Mellenthin, who graduated in 1973, remembers Halcyon Hall in its halcyon days, filled with young women, many of whom lived upstairs.
"That was the main building where you ate, where you got your mail, where you hung out," said Mellenthin, who now works at Vassar College's Admissions Department. "Anyone who's connected to the college is heartbroken to see what has happened. It's sad that it's going to come down ... but I don't see how they could save it."
The Millbrook Tribute Garden foundation and Thorndale Farm LLC, as representatives of the wealthy local Thorne family, said the deals were made with seller Bennett Acquisitions LLC in parallel transactions at undisclosed prices. The announcement was made by George Whalen III, a trustee of the foundation, and Oakleigh Thorne.

Earlier developers managed to convert some buildings to newer condominiums, but most have lain dormant and in various degrees of deterioration. One developer after another brought plans and dreams to this village in the middle of Dutchess County.

But this news brought cheer from some.
"I'm very pleased that someone who's from the community, who's invested in the community, will now have control of the parcel and bring it to an appropriate use for the community," said Millbrook Mayor Laura Hurley. And Stanley Morse, 73, a local travel agent who chairs the village's Planning Board, said, "It's been a long time coming and I think there will be a lot of relief and good feeling about what happened."
Whalen said that the last time he was in the Victorian relic was last summer and parts of it were literally falling down. "There are many places where you can't go," he said, for fear of falling through deteriorated floors. Whalen, a trustee of the Millbrook Tribute Garden foundation, said a subsidiary, TG Bennett Acquisition LLC, acquired three lots west of Bennett Commons Road that border on Franklin Avenue and Route 343.

These lots include Halcyon Hall, Carroll Hall, Alumni Hall, the library and the old chapel.
"This park would be an extension of the Millbrook Tribute Garden's park located on Franklin Avenue in the village," he said. This entrance to the village has been "a major detraction for many years," he said. "Our goals are to study the property and to hire a firm to demolish Halcyon Hall in safe manner, with the hopes of keeping the stonework intact and create a park-like atmosphere."
Thorne said they plan to remedy the eyesore and safety hazards first. The family, through various entities, bought five lots east of Bennett Commons that border on the Millbrook Golf and Tennis Club and Thorndale Farm. These lots include the Kettering Science Center, the Mellon music and dance buildings, the Harkaway Theatre, Hale House, Hillside House and two vacant parcels.
Thorne said, "We're very excited to acquire this property in order to prevent development that we feel would not be beneficial for our village." First, unsafe structures will be removed and environmental risks will be mitigated. After that, they plan to look for a "long-term plan that makes the best sense for the community," Thorne said. "We haven't figured out everything we want to do with the properties," Thorne said. He plans to engage members of the community and to hire professionals "who can help us figure out what to do. It will take us a little while," he said.
The entire campus has its own zone, noted Morse. It's called Bennett Campus District and was adopted in 2005 in an attempt to differentiate it from the rest of the village, which is mostly residential neighborhoods for about 1,400 people and a central business district.

It calls for two-acre residential zoning but allows for a "conservation density development" that permits closer buildings but with various requirements aiming at preserving "a small town atmosphere."

More images http://www.kuriositas.com/2012/12/bennett-school-for-girls-college-which.html

From the genteel to the academia, Millbrook site has storied past
Anthony P Musso for the Ploughkeepsie Journal September 2 2015 2015

Sitting on the northeast corner of routes 82 and 343 in Millbrook, a village in the Town of Washington,Dutchess County, is the deteriorating ruins of a once-beautiful late 19th-century structure. Described by local residents in recent years as hazardous and an eyesore, the building represents an important part of the region's history.

While most people refer to the structure as Bennett College, home of the prestigious girls' finishing school, the main building was originally erected as Halcyon Hall, a luxury hotel that catered to socially prominent guests from New York City.

In 1893, New York City publisher H.J. Davison Jr. commissioned the construction of the hotel, a five- story, 200-room Queen Anne Tudor-style building with a basement and sub-basement. He hired prominent New York City architect James Ware to design it.
"The goal of the Davison family was to be in competition with Mohonk Mountain Housein New Paltz," said Village of Millbrook Historian David Greenwood. "It was a luxury destination for the summer months and it was expensive to stay there."
Because Ware also worked on the design of the earlier Mohonk establishment, obvious similarities exist in both buildings.

While numerous proposals and a planned housing development on the property never came to fruition, in 2014 the parcel and vintage structure were purchased by the local Thorne Foundation.
"Presently, the building has been stabilized to prevent vandals from getting inside," Greenwood said. "There are discussions going on about its future, but the community will benefit from any direction it goes in."
Boasting a cobblestone foundation, Halcyon Hall took on a distinctive appearance on its hilltop setting. Its broad terraces, patterned wood shingles and leaded glass added to the elegance of the establishment.

Davison gained considerable wealth during the 19th century as the publisher ofGodey's Lady's Book, a popular monthly women's magazine. He and his wife frequently traveled to Europe and when the hotel was completed the couple furnished a number of rooms with items purchased overseas.

Mrs. Davison is credited with naming the hotel based on a poem she read that included the passage, "Halcyon place of pleasure."

To commemorate the official opening of Halcyon Hall, Davison hosted a gala ball on Sept. 16, 1893 to showcase it, with many of New York's social scene attending. One of the primary benefits of acquiring the Millbrook property was due to its close proximity to the Dutchess and Columbia Railroad station in the village; arriving guests were greeted at the station and transported back to the hotel by horse and carriage.

Within five years of its opening, Halcyon Hall began to experience dwindling guests, which was attributed to a nationwide financial downturn following the Spanish-American War. When combined with New York society's shifting taste during the era to vacation at seashore destinations, the Millbrook hotel was severely impacted and eventually filed for bankruptcy.

The stately hotel stood vacant until 1907, when May Bennett, an educator who operated the Bennett School for Girls in Irvington, Westchester County, discovered the former 22-acre Halcyon complex and thought it was ideal to expand her school.

The transformation from lodging establishment to school was simple, as former hotel guest rooms were used as dormitories and the larger public rooms were converted into classrooms and lecture halls. Bennett also purchased a number of houses surrounding the complex for use as faculty quarters.

The Bennett operation was well received and parents from near and far were sending their daughters to be educated there. When it opened in Millbrook, there were 120 students attending.
"I was the college president's secretary from 1951 until its demise in 1978," said Jane Bly. "I was just floored when I started to work there. My office had a beautiful fireplace, the closet had a full-length mirror inside and the building had beautiful stained-glass windows."
The school curriculum offered a wide range of classes, including art, fashion design, music, dance, domestic science and literature. It also had a full-time teaching nursery school for 3- and 4-year-old children, and students were also encouraged to pursue more leisurely activities, such as golf, tennis, gymnastics and horseback riding.

Cheryl MacCluskey, now president of Younger You LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut, attended the school in its final years.
"I went to Bennett for the horsemanship program, but then changed to fashion and I loved it," she said. "Father's Day was a special function and the dads would get dressed in tuxedos and the girls dressed in our most fancy dresses. We loved going to classes on the main hall's second floor," she said.
A stucco Alumnae Hall was added in 1952 and used as a west wing dormitory. Four years later, the Ella Buffington Library was built. In addition, stables, an outdoor theater and a science building were added to the property.
"I enjoyed programs at the theater, where the college brought in top-notch speakers and performers," said Ralph Della Volpe, 92, who developed the arts department at the school and remained teaching there from 1949 through the school's closure. "They featured people like Merce Cunningham, John Cage and poet Dylan Thomas."
Initially a six-year program, which included four years of high school study and two years of a college curriculum, the school eventually terminated its high school program and converted into a junior college, renamed Bennett College.

Continually expanding its complex and curriculum, by the mid-20th century, the school was facing serious financial difficulties. An attempt during the 1970s to phase in a co-educational program to compete with other area schools' action further impacted it.

When Bennett College attempted to adapt to other schools' programs by planning to upgrade to a four-year college, the plan left its fragile finances in an irreversible position.
"I stayed at the college until it closed, but I wasn't paid a salary toward the end because they didn't have any money," Della Volpe recalled.
On August 10, 1977, the Millbrook Round Table ran the headline “Bennett College folds.” About 120 people lost their jobs and 225 students faced a nonexistent fall semester. As one of Bennett’s last presidents had noted in the mid-1960s, “Bennett College and Millbrook are synonymous…we are one, and this is as it should be.” With the loss of this major facet of its identity, the Village of Millbrook experienced significant changes to its economic and social fabric.

The school filed for bankruptcy in 1977 and closed its doors the following year. At the time, it had an enrollment of 300 students.