54 North Avenue: The End Of The Mills Family Legacy

Though they may not know it, Westporters are very familiar with 54 North Avenue.The brown wooden house stands a few feet from the southern entrance to Staples High School. It’s more than a century old.

54 North Avenue

54 North Avenue

But that’s not why 54 North Avenue rates an “06880” story. More significant is that later this month its owner, William B. Mills, will sell his home. And that will end more than 200 years in which the Mills family has lived on North Avenue.

The oldest house on North Avenue between Long Lots and Cross Highway is #29. Built by Revolutionary War veteran John Mills (1760-1829) for his daughter Charity and her new husband Hezekiah Mills (a cousin), it was constructed in the right of way — without title to land. In fact, John seemed to have no claim to the spot whatsoever. Nevertheless, John set up a blacksmith shop for his daughter and son-in-law.

29 North Avenue

The saltbox at 29 North Avenue.

19 North Avenue was built by John’s grandson Charles Mills (1833-1909). Longtime Westporters know the property as “Rippe’s Farm” — now Greystone Farm Lane — but the Rippes bought it later.

Charles was a master mason who built the foundation for the original Staples High School (1884) on Riverside Avenue. When it was torn down in 1967, Charles’ great-grandson recycled the bricks to build his chimney. Charles — who represented Westport in the state legislature (1885-86) — sold off most of the Mills’ farmland on North Avenue. Legend has it he got $50 an acre — a good sum in those days. But he gave each of his 4 sons 4 acres of property up the road from the house: #54, 58, 62 and 66.

54 North Avenue — the one being sold this month — was built by Charles Mills (1857-1945) on land he got from his father. Charles planted the beautiful red maple in front that is now a local landmark. Williams Mills — Charles’ grandson — is only the 2nd owner.

A red maple frames 54 North Avenue.

A red maple frames 54 North Avenue.

48 North Avenue — built by Homer Mills (1898-1981) — was built in 1943. The road was still rural; there were no side streets, and few houses. Homer attended Adams Academy on nearby Morningside North, but left school after 8th grade. He never got to Staples — which his father helped build. As did many Westport boys, he went to work on a farm. He later became a mason, like his father and grandfather.

Other long-lived Westport families have schools or parks named for them. The Mills family does not.

But they truly built this town. Their monuments are the countless stone walls, sea walls and foundations that exist to this day.

What will happen to 54 North Avenue after it passes from the Mills family? Well, a demolition sign hangs prominently near the front steps.

(Hat tip to Jacques Voris – William Mills’ nephew — for much of this fascinating historical information and insight.)

27 responses to “54 North Avenue: The End Of The Mills Family Legacy

  1. Jeff Mills Launiere

    Thank you for this article. As a member of the Mills family it is nice to see an article with some of the history of the Mills family in Westport.

    • Robert R Mills IV

      Jeff Rob Mills here, son of Sam (Robert R Mills III) and Anne. Would love to hear from you. Call me 203 258-2438. I have not heard from you in years, where are you?????

      • Jeff Mills Launiere

        Hi Rob Mills, my wife and I moved down to Tampa, FL in 2003. Will give you a call, or always feel free to call me at 813-469-3163

  2. Jack Backiel

    I knew a Barry Mills, but I’m not sure if he was related to this particular family. I know I’m being very vague here, but there was another Mills that graduated from Staples in the early 1960s. Does anyone remember his name, or if he was related to this Mills family? Just as a side note, my Uncle Adolph attended Adams Adademy. Dan, thanks for this interesting posting.

    • Tom Allen '66

      Jack, are you thinking of Cliff Mills ’65? Dr. Cliff Mills was his dad. The family lived at Burritt’s Landing. I don’t think they were related to the Mills family Dan wrote about. Cliff was an excellent soccer and baseball player at Staples. Marjorie Mills was my 5th grade teacher at Saugatuck El, and a great one. Her husband’s name was Leslie. Any relation to the North Ave. Mills family?

      • Jack Backiel

        Barry Mills’s father was named Woody Mills. The Mills I’m thinking of was a friend of my cousin, so he could have been in one of the Staples classes between 1958 and 1962. I can’t think of his name but I can picture him.

      • Jeff Mills Launiere

        Tom, Leslie who lived on Cross Highway was my Grandfather and Marjorie was his second wife, losing the first wife to breast cancer. He is related to the Mills family that Dan wrote about with Charles Mills being my second great Grandfather. This side of the Mills family has quite a Westport, and CT history with one great grandfather being a 3rd selectman of Westport, two being Governor of CT, and with direct ancestors being Kings of England (William the Conqueror), Kings of France, and all the way back to Kings of Kvendland, now known as Finland.

      • Bonnie Scott Connolly

        I was thinking of Mrs. Mills, my 5th grade teacher also, Tom, but I couldn’t think of her first name. Those were good times at Saugatuck.

        • Tom Allen '66

          Thanks, Jeff. What an impressive legacy! Bonnie, Mrs. Mills was also a family friend. She and my mom were Compo buddies for many summers. Great teacher — one of my all-time favorites, including BJHS, Staples and college.

  3. Bruce Fernie - SHS 1970

    Fantastic homes, fantastic history… please don’t let any NewTwits tear these down.

  4. I knew it was coming. So sad. If my dad ( Robert R Mills III ) was still alive today he would be disgusted with how the town is allowing all of our history to be torn down to make way for oversized mega mansions. I mean the new owners don’t care they buy the home, hold onto it for a few years, sell it for a profit and they are on their way. I am the 2nd generation living in the same home that my Grandfather ( Robert R Mills II ) built on Sturges Hwy. One of Charles Mills 4 son’s ( Robert R Mills ) was my Great grandfather. I am proud to have worked hard to keep the Sturges hwy property in the Mills family. Oh and by the way I forgot to mention, my son Robert R Mills V
    who is 9 years old, lives at the Sturges Hwy address.

    • Rebecca Voris

      Robert, I’m glad to hear that. I’m William Mill’s niece, so if I’ve got this right, your great-grandfather was my great-great grandfather. I’m really pleased to hear that your son is growing up in Westport. My cousin’s son may not end up growing up on North Avenue, but at least there are still Millses growing up in the town.

      • Robert R Mills IV

        Is your sister Jacques, I assume. Would love to hear from you as well – 203 258-2438..Robert

  5. It should be on the National Register of Historic Homes..that would protect it from some nouveau rich A-hole from tearing it down…so damn disgusted about what is happening to my hometown

  6. Werner Liepolt

    When Homer (retired Westport policeman) and Billy Mills laid the foundation and installed a 4′ x 6′ piece of fieldstone as the hearth in the 1981 addition to my house, they pointed out the stone walls their family had installed up and down Bridge St. The family’s works survive; it’s good that memories of it do, too.

  7. Tracy Flood

    nice story with another sad ending….

  8. Cathy Smith Barnett SHS '66

    My older sister Stephanie Smith SHS ’63 was a friend of Nancy Mills who lived in the grand white home at 385 Saugatuck Ave. I think her father was Dr. Cliff Mills. The Krieg family bought the Mills home. Stephie Krieg, class of ’66 was a good friend of mine, Mike Krieg was class of ’65, Melissa ’70.

  9. Wendy Crowther

    I come across a member of the Mills family almost every time I do research into Westport’s history. My heart breaks whenever I see one of Westport’s great old homes being sacrificed to make way for some developer’s formula house. Developers entice sellers with cash deals and quick closings. No “For Sale” sign has to hang in front of the house for developers to drive in the driveway and knock on the door. They’ve knocked on mine. I always want to tell them, “Over my dead body.” The problem is, they’ll wait.

    I don’t know why Mr. Mills agreed to a sale/demolition at 54 North. He probably had his reasons, though it’s hard to imagine why he’d agree to the demolition of a family heirloom. Perhaps Dan’s article will reach a buyer interested in saving it from the wrecking ball, one with pockets deep enough to shoo off the current buyer.

    Hope springs eternal. We saw it happen on Cross Highway. Maybe it can happen here too.

  10. Linda stein

    Stop the wrecking ball. Too much history. These historical houses give Westport its charm. The wrecking ball is killing it

  11. Jacques Voris

    So many good thoughts, and hopefully some answers:

    My uncle Homer was Staples class of ’54, my uncle Charles was ’56, my mother Patricia was ’58, my uncle William (the subject of the article) was ’61, and my aunt Rita was ’62. I don’t know if those are the ones you are thinking about, but it is the right time frame.

    The Mills family of Saugatuck wasn’t related, at least in any way we know of, it is a common enough name.

    I feel at litte bad now that some of my cousins were left out, since this is their story too. It is interesting how families can lose touch with one another, even living in the same town. To Robert Mills IV, near as I can figure, we are third cousins. We should get together.

    • Robert R Mills IV

      Very interesting, Please do call me 203 258-2438.Robert R Mills IV

      • Jack Backiel

        Billy Mills was the one I knew back 53 years ago. That would be the Class of 1961. My memory needed to be jogged on this. I can picture him as he was 53 years ago. The last time I saw him was maybe in the mid sixties.

  12. Robert R Mills IV

    I am sorry Rebecca, I meant to say your brother Jacques……

  13. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Growing up on Quintard Place in Greens Farms, we lived next door to Larry “Homer” Mills, who was a Westport policeman. He was married to Georgiana Maurer Mills and they had three sons, Scott, Jimmy and John. Larry “Homer” Mills was a policeman in Westport around the early to mid 60s and until I went to college and I got married. He and his wife eventually divorced. She moved to South Florida and I lost track of him. Is he one of the relatives of this “Mills” family you are all speaking of?

    • Jacques Voris


      Homer Lawrence “Larry” Mills is the brother of William Mills of the story. Larry was a police officer in Westport until the mid 1970s when he retired from the force. He then took up the mason’s trade of his forefathers. He now lives in Old Saybrook and is a great-grandfather.

  14. HI –

    I have neglected to inform you guys that I have changed my email address FROM brucekentmalibu@charter.net TO brucejkent@gmail.com

    Could you please correct your records? Thanks, I miss receiving news from my old home town.

    Bruce Kent