- M I L L B R O O K -

MILLBROOK is about as quaint a country town you'll ever see.  Its incredible charm has attracted personalities from Mary Tyler Moore to the good Dr. Timothy Leary to make their homes there.   The quintessential nature of this hamlet in the town of Washington, NY extends beyond the village proper.  Just outside of this perfect town stands the perfect ruin:  the Bennett School.

IT WAS BUILT in the early 1890s as a resort.   Shortly after the turn of the century it had been transformed into the Bennett School, a finishing school for young ladies.  The main building was named Halcyon Hall, a title inspired by the building's former one.

bennettdrive.jpg (55721 bytes)      "Click on image to enlarge."    bennettturrett.jpg (51939 bytes)

ARCHITECTURALLY the building can be called Queen Anne, including in its wood frame elements of both the shingle and Tudor styles.  While traditional wooden-sash windows dominate, leaded glass is not uncommon, and can occasionally be found in rather elaborate form. Ornate woodwork graces everything, including the building's many oriels, dormers and porches.

bennetttudor.jpg (19023 bytes)      "Click on image to enlarge."     bennettne.jpg (53257 bytes)

UNLIKE many other structures of the period, the Bennett School isn't overly intimidating.  Many Victorian buildings look haunted even when well maintained - Halcyon Hall manages to stand an imposing building without that "evil" look.

        "Click on image to enlarge."     bennettback.jpg (50715 bytes)

SOMETIME in the '50s or '60s, the school expanded from a two-year institution to a four-year college. After this time, several dorms, a large science wing, and an expanded library and refectory were constructed for the school.   But the expansion proved somewhat overly ambitious, and by 1977 the school was forced to close its doors.

bennett3.jpg (32943 bytes)     "Click on image to enlarge."     bennettporch1.jpg (47564 bytes)

THE NEARBY BENNETT NURSERY SCHOOL however remained open, and it was to this school that my parents stashed me away in the early 1980's.  I remember well the large old ruin that lingered on the hilltop behind my nursery school.  I can still recall vividly the day our class went to take a close look at the place - I remember my fascination even then with the old broken windows, my great curiosity for what might lie behind those rotting old doors with their paint cracked and peeling.

     "Click on image to enlarge."      

I GRADUATED FROM BENNETT in 1984.  14 years passed before I returned to take a good close look at Halcyon Hall.  Then, late one summer afternoon in 1998 I decided to take advantage of the good weather to get some photos of the place.  I found the building remarkably well preserved, considering its two decades of abandonment.

      "Click on image to enlarge."        

THE SUN was only minutes away from setting when I arrived back at Bennett.  It cast a soft, faded light on the old ruin, defining every imperfection that had come with twenty years of neglect.  Porches sag and paint peels, but that aside this building has fared quite well.  I found out why as I noticed a big purple Oldsmobile barreling towards me down the old tree-lined driveway.

     "Click on image to enlarge."     

AN OLD MAN got out and asked me what I was doing there.   Before I had time to respond, he told me not to even think about venturing inside.  Apparently, a close eye is kept on this particular ruin at all times.   And it's a good thing, too - this place is far too good to lose.

IN THE YEARS SINCE THEN I've returned to Bennett now and then, and managed to explore the old buildings from top to bottom. That they have managed so survive such prolonged neglect seems less a miracle than a testament to their sound construction. Yet each passing day of abandonment decreases Halcyon Hall's chances for salvation. There is absolutely no excuse for a society as enlightened as ours is today to let this place disappear.  Its loss would be a nasty blemish on Millbrook's otherwise pretty face.

UPDATE: In 2005, developers proposed to demolish Halcyon Hall to make way for new residential development. Surely so profitable a venture as new condominums on this site can facilitate the preservation of at least the most historic parts of this important building, which is now listed on the State Register of Historic Places.

Links | Home | HVR | E-mail

© T.E. Rinaldi, 2006