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MILLBROOK is about as quaint a town as 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 most likely in the mid-to-late 1800’s as a resort. By 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 supposedly inspired by the building’s former one.
ARCHITECTURALLY the building can be called Victorian, including in its wood frame elements of both the shingle and Tudor styles. Eastlake would probably describe it best. While traditional wooden-sash windows dominate, leaded and stained glass is not uncommon, and can occasionally be found in rather elaborate form. Ornate woodwork decorates everything, including the building’s many oriels, dormers and porches.
UNLIKE many other structures of the period though, the Bennett School isn’t overly intimidating. Many Victorian buildings look haunted even in perfect condition-- Halcyon Hall manages to stand an imposing building without that evil look.
SOMETIME in the ’50s or ’60s, the school tried to go 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 Bennett couldn’t compete in the four-year institution market, and by 1977 the school was forced to close its doors.
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 cracked and peeling paint.
I GRADUATED FROM BENNETT in 1984. 14 years passed before I returned to Halcyon Hall. Then, late one summer afternoon in 1998 I decided to take advantage of the good weather to get some shots of the place. I found the building remarkably well preserved for one that had been abandoned over two decades.
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 purple Oldsmobile barreling towards me down the old tree-lined driveway.
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 going in the place. Apparently, a close eye is kept on this particular ruin at all times. And it’s a good thing, too-- this place is too good to lose, even in its present state.
I STILL PLAN on giving the place a full exploration at some point-- it’s on my long to-do list of abandoned buildings. But I don’t plan on waiting too long; for a long time now I have worried about the Bennett School. As ruins go, it’s a rare find these days. 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.