15 December 2012

Bennett School for Girls: College which Taught America's Privileged Set for Demolition

The founders of the Bennett School for Girls were decidedly aspirational.  Founded in 1890 it was soon attracting the daughters of a number of prominent American families. Yet while some educational institutions persevere and thrive for sometimes hundreds of years, the fate of the Bennett School and its grandiose buildings was somewhat different. Now it faces imminent demolition: yet how opulent times once were.

To say the school has changed since its heyday is something of an understatement. Take a look at this remarkable series of then and now photographs.

The school had its first premises in Irvington in New York and finally came to rest in Millbrook, Duchess County in the same state seventeen years later.  Generations of well-heeled girls received their junior college education there and this two year program of study continued in to the 1970s. So what caused the school to decline of the school in to such a state of magnificent disrepair?

Despite having an enrollment of over three hundred students at the time of its closure, not to mention a prestigious reputation, the fact that the school was traditionally girls only meant that it was no longer running with the times. It was the trend towards co-ed that killed off the institution. 

Although it had made attempts to convert to co-ed, the take up of places had not matched the money invested in the conversion. This left the school in such financial distress that it was forced to close its doors for good in 1978.

The wonderfully gothic Halcyon Hall, the schools architectural coup de grace, had been built in 1893 and was originally a five storey hotel.  Yet the luxury guesthouse failed to make a profit and so was bought up by May F Bennett, the founder of the school.  It thrived for decades.  Looking at these eerie pictures, one can almost hear the echoes of girls’ laughter on the stairwell.

It was an ideal setting in which to educate the daughters of America’s privileged social class. The campus included an outdoor theater as well as stables and a chapel – all situated in expansive and beautifully created grounds.  A later state of the art science center built in 1972 (built to comply with New York’s science education requirements) would help ruin the school financially.

Although the exterior is old, much of the detritus in the interior is from the late 1970s, when the school shut its doors for the final time.

Once, the driveway to the college was lined with trees. Now, Halcyon Hall is itself obstructed by overgrowth.

When the school closed its almost century old infrastructure could not cope with the sudden lack of heat.  Many water pipes exploded wreaking major havoc throughout Halycon Hall, the main building.  Much of the roof has now collapsed and nature is regaining control of the interior.  All attempts to develop the property have failed and now Halcyon Hall is due for demolition. Although the condition of the building puts it beyond reprieve, most would agree that this remains a great shame.

First Image Credit Flickr User Reinhold Behringer