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Halcyon Hall - The Bennett School for Girls

The Fall of Halcyon Hall

When buildings are new, when properties are bustling with fanfare and people, they seem so strong. Their walls appear built to withstand decades, to endure generations. Walls that, you're certain, will always be there. But this is fallacy, there is no escaping time. As soon as a property falls vacant you quickly see how delicate they were all along. No matter how masterfully crafted a place may be, it cannot care for itself, and in the end buildings are helpless toward the workings of nature and the wear of seasons. In this way, man-made structures are not unlike the people who build them. Perhaps this is why so many look upon forlorn buildings with sympathy or pity. They see themselves in the ruins - The cycle of life played out in shattered glass and disintegrated plaster. A corporeal declaration that everything is temporary.
 
Rested upon its knoll, as it has for well over a century now, Halcyon Hall is equal parts elegance and frailty. Composed of wood and stone, intricate carvings, cracked and broken, still adorn corners and peaks which stand in various stages of collapse. The long pronounced lines of its architecture have become discolored and bowed, a majority of the porch has caved in from years of rain and snow, and the old courtyard has overgrown into a small forest. To view the crumbling facade from the nearby roadway is to be immediately struck with a sense of awe, as well as a melancholy pining to have known in better times. A building that breaks one's heart to simply gaze upon it.

Opened in 1890 as a resort, this grand hall served only a brief time in its original role. By 1900 it was in use as an upper-class finishing school for young women, and with its new purpose came a new moniker, one it would hold until its final days – The Bennett School. Students here were the daughters of industrialists, bankers, and other members of society whose wealth permitted such an education. It was here that young women would learn fine arts and languages, horseback riding, and be schooled in all the lessons of societal behavior and etiquette that would make them successful in their roles as the wives of future industrialists and bankers.

As time progressed, such an institution became increasingly viewed as archaic, and Bennett came to align itself more and more with that of a traditional college, but remained exclusively a girls' school. Those who knew the campus during these years often muse upon the building as if it were, itself, a being. That the warmth they felt when recalling their youth was not solely brought about by the friends and classmates who surrounded them, but from the building itself.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, as the feminist movement grew increasingly mainstream, girls' schools as a whole found themselves regarded, by some, to be symbols of sexism. This shift in culture found a greater number of women attending unisex colleges with every passing year. During the early 1970s Bennett made a last-ditch effort to modernize by expanding to a four-year college, but the increased curriculum and new constructions needed for such ventures only worked to compound Bennett's financial problems, and by 1978 the school was forced to close its doors.

We have documented Bennett for over a decade now, and with every year we've watched as the old place succumb more and more to decay. Of all the locations we have filmed, few experiences have influenced us as deeply as watching the sun rise within the old school. Sitting upon frozen floorboards, enveloped in gloom, awaiting the gradual rotation of the earth. It occurs gradually at first, the utter blackness slowly evaporating to a murky blueish-purple. We could finally see, but the world around us was still very pale, and very cold. After some time this too changed, and a deep orange crawled across the landscape. Warm, golden light reached into the darkness, entering through the windows and numerous holes in the walls. Though Halcyon Hall closed long ago, it is as alive then as it ever was.
 
The rooms within the weathered building are littered with reminders of the past, memories held tightly by a building that sees few visitors anymore. Room numbers still present on the peeling doors, claw-foot bathtubs sunken into buckled washroom floors, and all around, beyond the fringe of human hearing, the sounds of girls conversing in the halls between lectures.
 
Bennett, though wrinkled and frail from many years of life, retains a glow of youth just below the surface. Walking these halls today, you come to understand that some places keep time separately from the rest of the world. Friends still gather here, though in shared memories. No matter how buckled and twisted they have come to be, the walls of the Bennett School are is still where bonds were forged, lessons were learned, and lives began. Existence may be temporary, but like a stone cast into a vast lake, it creates ripples. Ripples that are felt long after the stone has sunken to the lake floor. The very fibers of Bennett's timber emit these sentiments and cast them in long shadows across the dust-covered floors. The aroma of lavender and the sound of a softly played piano is almost expected, even amidst the damp and dimly lit halls which have so gently replaced them.




 
 
 
A light snow begins to fall. 
 
 
The standing pillars of the courtyard porch number fewer and fewer every year.
 
 
Looking out from a frost-lined window, awaiting the rising sun.
 
 
 

 Sunrise approaches.
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
This massive collapse gutted out much of the grand foyer, seen during better times in the historical image above. 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 The performing arts room.
 
 
 The same room in ruin, a gaping hole in the ceiling creating a natural stage-light.
 
 
 
 View from the stage.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

A modern addition added later in the life of the campus. The most notable room within being the school auditorium.