Bennett College was founded in 1890 at Irvington, NY by Miss May F. Bennett. In 1907 Bennett moved to its final home on 22 acres (89,000 m2) in Millbrook, Dutchess County, New York. In 1907 the school had an enrollment of 120 students and a faculty of 29. Originally named The Bennett School for Girls, the course of study was six years (four years of high school and two years of higher study). In the early 20th century the school discontinued high school courses and became a junior college only. The two-year curriculum continued until the mid 1970s, when Bennett began awarding four-year Bachelor's degrees. Generations of young women from prominent American families attended Bennett over its 90 year history.
Majors of study included art, fashion design, music, modern languages, literature, history, dance and domestic science. Activities at Bennett included gymnastics, riding, golf, tennis, field hockey and tobogganing.
At the time of its closing, enrollment was around 300 students.
With the growing popularity of coeducation in the 1970s, Bennett found itself struggling to survive. An attempt to upgrade facilities and convert to a four-year college in the mid 1970s left the already troubled college in financial distress. In 1977 the trustees attempted to reach a collaboration agreement with Briarcliff College, a junior women's college in nearby Briarcliff Manor which was also struggling with low enrollment. The plan did not work, however, and Briarcliff instead merged with Pace University in 1977 after both Briarcliff and Bennett entered bankruptcy. In 1978 the college closed its doors for good.
The library of Bennett College was transferred to The Hayes Memorial Library along with other school artifacts. Academic records may have been transferred to Pace University.
The main building of Bennett College, Halcyon Hall, was built in 1893 by H. J. Davison Jr., a publisher from New York. The 200-room Queen Anne structure was designed by James E. Ware. It has 5 stories, a basement and sub-basement. Originally built as a luxury hotel, the building became home to Bennett College 1907 after the hotel failed to catch on. The Bennett campus also included a chapel, stables, dormitories, an outdoor theater and a state of the art science building completed just before the school closed in 1978. The cost of constructing the science building (needed to comply with new state science education requirements) along with other campus upgrades contributed to the school’s bankruptcy in 1978.
Halcyon Hall was never reopened and quickly fell into ruin. When the heat was turned off water pipes burst causing major water damage throughout the building. Large portions of the roof have collapsed and trees can be seen growing through parts of the building. Halcyon Hall remains in this state as of 2008. Several attempts were made in the 1980s to develop the property but all failed and the title was taken over by a savings-bank subsidiary. The bank failed in 1991 and its assets were seized by the FDIC. The main building, Halcyon Hall, was later placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The town of Millbrook has been working with developers to raze Halcyon Hall and make way for new condominiums.