A majestic relic


The following comments have been carried from another site. They have been selectively chosen due to their poignancy.

Tue 05-02-2006
An errand upstate took me through Millbrook last Friday and I took a sad and nostalgic stroll all around the old Bennett campus. I was a student there in '65 and '66. A rig is drilling a well in the front lawn; the operator told me the place will be demolished to make way for condos. I stood in the courtyard and could see into my old classrooms, I peeked into a ply wooded doorway and saw the columns in the old design studio, I summoned images and memories of the dining room where we sang to classmates who came back from spring weekends with engagement rings. I conjured up names and faces of girls (we weren't women then) I haven't thought about for years. I'm amused to read comments about the place being haunted; if so, it's just by a bunch of post adolescent females anguishing over most of the same things the spook-hunters are going through. Goodbye, girls; goodbye Bennett. 

Wed 05-21-2008
I attended Bennet in the seventies and found myself near Millbrook a few years ago so I decided to visit. To this day my shock remains unabated. Looking up to my old room I was eighteen again and could see and hear our conversations, classes, teachers, and feel all the energy that such a community generates. I lived in a large room in the front where we would hang out the window on Friday afternoons and watch the girls, transformed for the weekend, greet their dates. I still have many friends that were in school there with me and they have decided it would be far too sad to ever see Halcyon Hall again. We never considered it beautiful. The only thing that saved it from being forbidding, even then, was the youth and exuberance that the buildings contained. Halcyon Hall was judged so flammable that there was immediate expulsion for any student caught smoking in any room other than one of the two designated areas that had been specially constructed for that use. For me, the decay is not only shocking for the obvious reasons, but I never would have believed that a place that was so vibrant and alive could reach such a dilapidated condition in about thirty years. It would seem I would have to be at least two hundred years old! 

Mon 09-12-2005
I myself have gone into this amazing place. I have many pictures of it. It is very, very creepy. Not a good feeling once you're inside. I explored the right side of the building the most. Most floors were caved in. And there also is two levels of basement underground. I don’t know how deep the second one goes but it have about 20 stairs going down.... To a dark unknown area!!!!

Wed 08-09-2006
I can't believe Halcyon Hall is so bad! ('70) Alum. I attended under full scholarship generously given by Bennett. Met my husband there. A friend's room was on the top floor of Halcyon - huge old room. Loved that building. There were new dorms too - but loved Halcyon. What a shame not only to Millbrook, but to all the very rich alumni! Where are the Fords,Rockefellers, Pillsburys? Where is Cab Calloway's daughter? And What about Molly Ferrer? Her brother is the star on Crossing Jordon; her mom Rosemary Clooney; her dad Jose Ferrer; her aunt was Audrey Hepburn. Where are all these ladies? This is absolutely horrific! I wonder what condition the Chapel is in? And the Library? And the Greek Theatre (A beautiful amphi-theatre)?

Monday 06-22-2009
I was in the last graduating class of Bennett College and gave the farewell speech at graduation to Miss Gannon, the head of the child development department. I had a great two years there. It was a great school and I have wonderful memories of my time there, especially in that big beautiful old building. It was beautiful inside and out and it is so sad to see it falling apart. Our dining hall was in there and classrooms, and great nooks to sit and read and study in. I worked the switchboard there and loved being in the building. The fourth floor was off limits, so of course being wild 18 year olds , we found a way up there and saw lots of painting on the walls. They were all very strange paintings and very psychedelic. We were told by some older teachers that Timothy Leary took art students up there on acid and had them paint the walls. I don't know if it is true or not, but it was a great story and the painting on the walls sure looked like they were done by drug induced artists! Having been in every inch of that building, I can tell you it was amazing and should have been taken care of. On a separate note, I have (and I believe all graduates got or had the chance to get) a beautiful watercolour of the main building when we graduated. I have it in my home and when ever I look at it i remember sun bathing and running around on that great front lawn and looking up at that great building! I hope someone can save it!!!!! 

I went to Bennett College the year it closed - 1976-77. It was quite sad, as at the end of the year all the students were called for a meeting and told the college was in financial difficulty but planned to reopen in the fall. Perhaps many students families made other plans over the summer and enrolments were insufficient to reopen in the fall. I head the announcement about 1 week before school was to resume. Students were told records would be transferred to another school closer to NYC and their credits would transfer there. I went to Buffalo to finish my 2 year degree instead. Many years later I learned Bennett had closed due to inability to repay NY state Dormitory Authority loans taken out on newer co-ed dorms and when enrolments declined the state would not offer any flexibility. This caused the closing of the College. A nearly identical fate nearly occurred to the college I eventually completed a BFA degree from - Cazenovia College. Only for them, the town business people came together and helped the college regroup. 

I grew up in Millbrook and remember Bennett when it was a college. I went to some concerts and other functions there. It was a unique old building with some great turn of the last century features. About ten years ago, I passed through the town and was stunned to see the ruin it had become. I remember sitting on that hillside with a girl I liked when it was a mowed lawn. I couldn’t believe how ruined and overgrown it had become. Now I run a civil and environmental engineering company that has worked on redeveloping some large, old abandoned properties. I can tell you from firsthand experience that Bennett is done. Whatever it once was, it cannot be put back together. If the developer is willing to pay $4M for the facility as a tear-down, then the cost of restoring Halcyon Hall alone must be several times that. Until you have done the work of putting one of these sites into useable condition, you really can’t understand the economics of it. This building CAN’T be restored. If it were right back in the condition it was in the seventies, it would still need to be torn apart and refurbished to be useable now. The plumbing, heating, and asbestos issues in the photos I have seen online alone would crush the project. My experience has been that lots of casual onlookers want these types of “grand old buildings” restored because they make nice scenery as they drive past and local folks get very sentimental for the way it was back when, but very few of these people will ever put a dime to the massive cost of rebuilding it. If you think that Halcyon Hall would work as a hotel, then you haven’t done the math. If the place charged more than high end Manhattan hotels and was full every night, it would take decades to make even a meagre ROI on rebuilding it. “Adopt a room?”. That idea will work if people will pay a couple of hundred K per room and the rooms would have to be demolished and rebuild anyway. From what I have read (and I was sad to hear that the Round Table had folded) there are only two likely paths for Bennett. If the town is lucky, a developer will turn the property into something viable that retains some features of its past architecture. If you can’t find somebody to do that, or if well-meaning, but overly sentimental folks drive the developers off, then the ruin will end up as municipal property (town or county) and will crumble slowly for decades. I have seen way too many properties like this where passionate folks with good intentions run off the developers, celebrate their righteous victory, and then gripe for years after about why nobody will do anything with the ruin. It is really sad to lose such a distinctive property but Bennett failed as a college and nobody came up with a viable use for it over the last 30 years. If there was one, it surely would have surfaced during one of the real estate booms during those years. And take it easy on the cranky caretaker. I knew him in high school and he was a nice (if somewhat intense) guy.

Fri 08-01-2008
I taught at Bennett from 1966-1970, serving as Music Director of Performing Arts. My position included directing music and sound for all drama production, accompanying the modern dance classes and composing music for dancers, and teaching a course titled "Music for Dancers." At the age of 25 being surrounded by hundreds of young women was quite an experience. My wife and I first lived out at North Clove Rd. which was completely isolated. She was "stuck" there (we only had the one car) with our children - toddlers 10 months apart while my work at the college usually involved 10 to 12 hour days and numerous evenings. We moved into a house owned by Bennett out on Oak Summit Road during our second year.

I enjoyed the area with its woods and snow but my wife did not and after four years I accepted a job as Music Director at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles where just about every person in the film industry sent their sons and daughters. Anyway, I really did enjoy Bennett and found many of the students to be of superb intellect and admirable aspirations. The drama and dance productions were often of high quality and there were lots of opportunities for highly original and even experimental work.

I do remember Regina Cody, a very old and brilliant teacher who headed the English Dept. and who took a great liking to me after hearing my string quartet. We shared tea and had some great conversations. I do remember Charles Hoyt - he played some pretty hot Fats Waller on the piano. There was the artist whose last name was Della-Volpe who befriended me early-on as well as the younger Ron Collier. Mike McElhaney directed the theatre department and Emily Wadhams the dance department. Harkaway Theatre was an incredible environment named for the horse of the brilliant architect who designed the facility 'way back when.'

Halcyon Hall - the posted photos show this sort of horrid Victorian film-genre building. Halcyon was actually quite lovely and it is surely only the fault of those so callous as to let it fall into such a state that accounts for the later photos. It was old, yes, but it was a warm, welcoming, stately place with endless character and beauty. It was filled with great old 1900 furniture. When you entered the lobby there was a huge floor-standing clock. The faculty lounge had old Victorian furniture. I recall having lunch with trustees and we were served by young women in maid's uniforms with white gloves. I did manage to look into dorm rooms during an official tour and I remember them being old and small but, still, possession a character that could not be easily dismissed. 

The newer dorm building was fairly absurd and whoever let the new architect place it next to Halcyon had little or no respect for the character of the college overall. You have to have seen the place when it was filled with great kids going to class, snow on the ground or Fall leaves, flowers, etc.

President Eldridge's house stood at the top of the main hill of the campus and looked down upon Halcyon. Keep in mind that Halcyon was the official entrance - you drove up the road and discovered a somewhat 'surrounding' Halcyon Hall with its attached library, chapel, etc. and the main entrance to the building. Up on the hill were located Harkway Theatre, a state-of-the-art dance studio, drama classrooms, the modern music building, fashion design building (music and fashion were connected via and underground tunnel as I recall), a fabulous wide-open art studio where sculptor Tal Streeter worked and taught, etc. The science building was among the very old facilities but was outfitted with modern classroom equipment, etc.

I can recall almost all of the students I ever taught at Bennett. Two who attained fame - Gates McFadden ("Star Trek") and Andrea Marcovicci (often called America's leading cabaret singer) well represented the kind of talent and dedication that I found in the wonderfully interesting young ladies who attended Bennett. The college spared no expense when it came to bringing famous personalities to campus. During the four years I taught at Bennett we had as guest lecturers/artists Tyrone Guthrie, Katherine Litz, Roy Lichtenstein, Senator Fullbright, ambassadors, scientists, playwrights, etc. The beauty of any school in which the students are in-residence is that evening programs are always being planned. Of course, that also meant that, as a young married husband, I was too, too often "trapped" in long evening rehearsals or preparing tapes in the sound booth.

Ann and I returned to Bennett sometime in the late 1980s while passing thru the area on a return visit from California. The college had gone "belly-up" years before and high weeds were already growing up around the beautiful dance studio. There were some people around as part of the campus was then being used as a workshop for a welfare program I believe - not sure. Ann had tears in her eyes. When I asked her why she said that she was remembering how lonely and unhappy she had been while I was teaching there. It made me realize that I had made the right

decision to move out to California and take a position which was more challenging but gave me a good home-life with Ann and our kids.

Millbrook - what a weird place. It could be charming and delightful as well as lonely, too damn provincial and even "close-minded." There were too many folks with the same last name. We were treated ok as I recall although you were always "one of those college people." I really don’t know if it's fair to blame the townies for not rescuing the college campus. First of all I went into town a lot and I do not recall the girls patronizing the Millbrook stores unless they really were desperate. They drove into Poughkeepsie or flew to White Plains. So, I'm not at all sure that there was any love lost between the town people and the college folk.

I remember Rolf Haines Pharmacy, John Cading at Corner News Store, Al Maggiacomo dry cleaners and Millbrook Dept. Store. Ha, I used to read Playboy Magazine and when I purchased a copy at Corner News Store it had to be put into a brown paper bag before I left so that I didn’t dare walk down Main St. with it showing.

Horrors! During the summer the college was deserted but we had Upward Bound and I had a blast with those kids.

It did not require a genius to see that Bennett was heading towards bankruptcy if they did not choose to go co-ed while there was still time. The day of the single-sex school was over except for those who could stand on their reputation as great institutions of higher learning. Bennett's trustees, administration and business officers simply 'sat on their hands' too long before seeing what was coming. I was, of course, deeply saddened to learn of the college's financial failure, but I do recall the business manager making fun of me for leaving to go to a job in California where, according to him, "those private schools go under all of the time."

Well, the school I moved to continues to be one of the greatest schools in the nation and has graduated luminaries too numerous to count (Jake and Maggie Gyllenhall, Governor Jerry Brown, Sally Ride, Nobel winners, leaders in every field, etc.) Bennett should have gone co-ed by 1970.

The arguments about Molly Ferrer are pretty silly. The issues surrounding whether or not rich alumni should have rescued the campus are probably moot. If Bennett alum had felt the need to rescue the place - meaning the physical plant - they would have done so. Obviously they went on to 4 year colleges and universities and no longer felt a strong-enough attachment to the place to warrant such a rescue.

Personally, I always saw Halcyon and, in fact, the entire campus as a ripe opportunity for someone to develop a huge Bed& Breakfast or lodge of some kind. So much was in-place when the school 'went under.' 

Knowing the way Millbrook Bank and the Millbrook two fathers worked I still believe that they probably enjoyed watching those fine buildings crumble away. My personal belief, however, is that the memories live on and the demise of the physical plant cannot subtract from what thousands of individuals accomplished and took away with them for the rest of their lives.

While reading the comments posted here I remembered that I used to shoot 8mm home movies as a hobby - the kids, our houses, trips, pets, etc. Needless to say I took a few reels of Bennett College when everything looked great. The best is a four-minute colour video taken in the 'dead of winter' when everything was covered in lovely snow.

I held my camera in one hand and just drove around the entire campus with my Yashica camera going. I transferred it to VHS years later and eventually to DVD, needless to say, there's been some natural deterioration but the place still looks great in the footage. I remember Mike McElhaney dreamed of bringing a video studio to Bennett at a time when video cameras were still large and quite expensive. I'm not sure that ever came about or he would have invariably taken videos of the campus, productions, people, etc.

Anyway, I just thought I would add my insight and memories to this site with the hope that someone, somewhere has their memory piqued. I'll close with a thought similar to something I wrote earlier. Seeing Halcyon in those recent photos is a bit like seeing the ocean liner S.S. United States after she was stripped bare by salvage companies.

The "thing" itself still stands in memory and whatever it looks like now is merely a reflection of what human beings value or, to be kind, are unable to maintain due to change, progress, values, the natural order of things and even a certain sense of disregard which may also be natural to the human condition.

I truly wish that the young ladies of Bennett College have gone on to wonderfully happy and productive lives and that their memories of Bennett are fond ones.

Best Wishes, Jerry Margolis Jerome N. Margolis, Ph.D

January 2011
So a few weeks ago, back in December, my Girlfriend and I took a short road trip from my college to check out Halcyon Hall/The Bennett School for Girls. As we approached the site, we found a nearby area to park and proceeded to approach the building. Approaching from one side, we passed Gage Hall first. The ground levels were all boarded up with no real hint of an entry point, so we just moved on. As we came into full, close-up view of the main building, we were in awe. The amount of the original detailed stone and woodwork left intact was incredible, not to mention the shear size of the structure itself. We made our way into the building on what we assumed was the first main floor. The first room we entered into seemed like it may have been a reception area at one point, but now was essentially bare. There was a large portion of floor/ceiling that was caved in so naturally we avoided it. Walking past the cave in, we made our way a little ways down a hallway before the floor began to look too unstable and we turned back.

We then went down the main hallway and past a few rooms here and there. At the end of the hall was what seemed to be a large dining room or something similar. People had definitely been here recently as there were Gatorade bottles and candy bar wrappers littered near a broken window. Behind the dining area, we found the remnants of the kitchen (being a Culinary student, this was of especially high interest to me). There were the remains of the ventilation system from the stoves, and even the old dumbwaiter still intact. Even further back was what appeared to be some sort of storage area. After this we decided to turn back as my girlfriend was getting nervous (this was her first urbex trip). On our way back down the main hallway we noticed an open elevator shaft with the control box open. Also on our way out, we spotted a possible POE on one of the higher levels of Gage Hall, but decided not to pursue it.

As we made our way back to the car and began to leave, we stopped on the roadside to take some long shots. We even saw another couple making their way up (presumably) to take pictures. With such a massive site and so much to explore, I never planned on doing the whole place in a single trip. Thankfully, it's only about half an hour away, and WELL worth the gas. Hopefully once it warms up some, I'll be able to make another trip out. If anybody is in the area, let me know and I'd be glad to meet up.