29 North Avenue — the charming saltbox home featured in Monday’s “06880” — has a long history.
Jacques Voris — whose roots in Westport go back to at least the 1700s — knows that home, and the surrounding area, intimately. He writes:
I am grateful that Annette Norton chose to restore the house, rather than turn it into yet another generic, soulless, overly large one.
In Monday’s article I am quoted as a background, using words I have said over the years. I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify and update some of that information.
I know that for many people this story is meaningless. The people discussed are long dead, and in the grand scheme of history had little impact. However, I find it to be a remarkably human story that gives a sense, a taste, of what life was like in bygone days.
My family has always called it “The Squatter’s House,” because it was said that when it was built they squatted on the land without title. That is why it is so close to the road: It was built in the right of way, a gray area where no one had clear ownership of the land.
The situation was normalized later, in a land swap with the town. Alas, while it is a juicy story, we have little in the way of proof.
The first house on the plot of land was probably built around 1780 by Daniel Mills. He was born in Stamford in 1748. When the situation at Lexington and Concord drew militia from all over New England, Daniel and his brothers marched off with their neighbors.
He seems to have given perfectly good service in his time under arms. But his views later changed, to that of a Loyalist. He and his brother Ezra were tarred and feathered in Dutchess County, New York.
Daniel’s other brother John moved to Canada after the war, so strong were his Loyalist views.
What changed? We don’t know. I have long had a feeling that the death of his uncle Beebe fighting the French and Native American allies around Fort Edward played a factor. Defending your rights “as an Englishman” is one thing, but allying with the hated French is another.
In any regard, after the incident in Dutchess County Daniel moved to Greens Farms, where some cousins lived. They were children of Beebe, as well as his uncle Robert Mills, and the descendants of his great-grandfather Aaron Fountain.
Hezekiah Mills, Daniel’s son, next owned the house. Kiah was veteran of the War of 1812, and a blacksmith. His shop was further up the street, about where 59 North Avenue is now.
He married Charity Mills, his second cousin once removed. She was the daughter of John Mills and Eunice Frazier. John was Kiah’s second cousin, being the son of Ebenezer Mills.
It is likely Kiah and Charity remodeled the house about 1830 into something close to its present form. An architectural review of the house done some years ago noted elements that were consistent with the 1830 date, but also cited tool marks on timbers that would be from earlier.
I have little troubling seeing my frugal Yankee kin reusing much of the material when rebuilding the house.
The stories of Native Americans visiting the house referred not to random passersby, but allegedly were kinfolk to Charity. That we have such ancestry is a longstanding story in our family, but I can find no documentation to bear it out.
Their son, William Henry Mills, next owned the house. When he marched off to fight in the Civil War with Company C of the 28th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry he left 9 children in the care of his wife Betsey Ann Batterson.
While she raised the children, tended the farm and was midwife to the neighborhood, she was not alone. There were many kinfolk around her. She was also a good churchgoing woman, who sat in the front pew in the east center of the Greens Farms Church.
Then the house was owned by Henry Eldridge “Hen” Mills, the last large-scale onion farmer in Westport according to his obituary.
His son Elmer owned the house next. He is the source of much lore about the house. Elmer seems to have been interested in a good story more than good history.
He was a colorful person. Shakespearean actor, manservant to powerful people, he had style and panache among a family of dour Yankees. Elmer was the last person surnamed Mills to own the house.
The story doesn’t quite end there though. Elmer sold the house to James Edward “Jimmy” Godfrey, his cousin. Jimmy was the son of Eugene Godfrey and Julia Mills. He added indoor plumbing to the house in the 1950s.
Julia Mills was the daughter of William Henry Mills and sister to Hen Mills. People today still recall his daughter Elizabeth “Betty” Godfrey, known as “Nurse Betty.”
So Annette, there is a story about your house. It’s probably more than you will ever care to know.
You are now the trustee of a legacy of a family, a history that has deep roots in Westport. May you and yours add another long chapter to this history.