“Bea’s Folly”: Looking Back At A Legendary Home

John Kerry, George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy and Bella Abzug held fundraisers there.

Ted Kennedy practiced his speech in a bathroom there.

Robert Redford, Pete Seeger and Don McLean all hung out there, underneath the iconic peace sign.

107 Harbor Road, aka “Bea’s Folly.”

“There” is 107 Harbor Road. Known also as “Bea’s Folly,” the house — owned and renovated by Bea and Sid Milwe, then by their daughter Liz and her husband Peter Wormser — is hardly the oldest home in Westport.

But it is as historic as any from our town’s storied past.

The Milwe family has some history too. In the 1950s, Sid worked in Bloomingdale’s fur department. Paid on commission, summers were notoriously tough.

He tried to unionize the department store’s employees. He was promptly fired — and blacklisted.

Bea and Sid Milwe.

Sid borrowed money from family and friends. He and Bea — a social worker — bought land in Stratford, and opened Stratford Town Fair.

The unique department store, with departments like dresses and records, but also a diner, bakery and Ferris wheel, was quite successful.

It was also quite a ways from the Milwes’ home in Mamaroneck. Hunting for a home closer to Stratford, they wandered off I-95 Exit 17.

On Saugatuck Shores’ Marine Avenue, they spotted a “for rent” sign.

After 6 years there, they bought an unheated summer home at 107 Harbor Road. They hired local architect Larry Michaels to winterize and modernize it. Henry Wright added special details, like a circular staircase and mahogany molding.

Bea’s Folly is filled with artwork, like this piece behind state legislators Will Haskell and Jonathan Steinberg at a fundraiser.

Inspired by a trip to Japan, the Milwes added a rock garden in back, where the Saugatuck River meets Long Island Sound. A teenager named Bruce Beinfield helped.

The boulders came from Gault. Sid hired a crane, to lift them over the house.

Bea and Sid collected sculptures from Westporters like Stanley Bleifeld, and works from their many artists friends.

The Milwes became important parts of the community. Sid bought the Country Gal building on Main Street, and Center Court indoor tennis. He was elected to the Zoning Board of Appeals. (He was also a founder of the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford.)

The couple were politically active too. Sid started Businessmen for Nuclear Disarmament. Bea began a Westport chapter of the International League for Peace and Freedom.

Together, they helped found Fairpress — a more liberal alternative to the conservative Westport News — and the downtown World Affairs Center.

When a group of Westporters lay down on the Post Road bridge to protest President Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia, Bea and Liz were among them.

The group was arrested, and brought to the police station. Sid showed up, with donuts and coffee — for them, and the officers.

“We’re all one community here,” he said.

Robert Redford attended a fundraiser for Congressional candidate Toby Moffett. Liz’s niece Alison (right) seems unimpressed.

Bea went back to college. At Sarah Lawrence, she learned how to make documentary films. One followed 3 Westport mothers who struggled to make ends meet. Another was on life after prison; a third, on inspiring Bridgeport women.

Bea filmed women’s conferences around the world, and followed Hillary Clinton to China.

Back home, the large living room was a gathering place for political candidates — usually progressives. Several statewide campaign managers, who could not afford housing in Fairfield County, lived gratis for months with the Milwes.

107 Harbor Road helped filled the coffers — and launch the careers — of Connecticut politicians like Congressmen Toby Moffett and Jim Himes, and state legislators Jonathan Steinberg and Will Haskell.

“Bea’s Folly” was also the site of salon dinners. “There were lively discussions,” Liz recalls. “People did not always have the same points of view.”

A neighbor who attended said, “I’m a Republican. But I love Bea!”

It was not all politics, all the time. Sid hosted Tuesday night poker games in the living room, with guests like actor Mason Adams and TV host Sonny Fox.

Eventually, Liz’s husband Peter — an architect — designed a separate poker room, over the garage.

Another memorable event at Bea’s Folly: the wedding of Liz Milwe and Peter Wormser.

Their 4th of July fireworks parties were legendary. Up to 400 guests filled the property. “There was everyone, from Richard Blumenthal, Max and Barbara Wilk, Bill Buckley and Tracy Sugarman, to my parents’ butcher,” Liz says. “My parents loved them all.”

Still, politics were an integral part of the Milwes’ lives. Sid supported a Bridgeport breakfast program run by the Black Panthers. When one of their leaders was charged with a crime he did not commit, Sid and Bea put up their home as collateral for bail.

Decades after the 1960s, teenagers hung out on the Milwes’ deck to work on Will Haskell’s State Senate campaign.

Now the time has come for Liz to downsize. She found a smaller place around the corner, on her beloved Saugatuck Island. A “wonderful couple” bought Bea’s Folly. She moves in later this month.

Liz will take some of the art, and the peace sign that her late husband Peter made years ago.

“It’s sad, but it’s a new chapter,” she says. “I’ll still be part of this wonderful community. And I’ll still have Bea and Sid inside me.”

Liz Milwe inherited her mother’s entertaining gene. As an RTM member, she has hosted many parties for the entire non-partisan body, and for her District 1 residents specifically. This Instagram screenshot from her grateful RTM colleague Jimmy Izzo.

First though, there’s one more event.

More than a decade ago, Bea met a young congressional hopeful named Jim Himes. “I’m getting too old,” she told her daughter Liz. “You run a fundraiser for him.”

On August 20, she’ll host another — for his 8th House campaign. “It’s the nicest way I know way to honor the house, and my parents,” Liz says.

FUN FACT: Sid Milwe gave the house its name — “Bea’s Folly” — as it was being renovated. “Things kept getting more and more complicated,” Liz remembers.

“But he loved the house too.”

(If it happens — or happened — in Westport, you’ll read about it on “06880.” Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)

22 responses to ““Bea’s Folly”: Looking Back At A Legendary Home

  1. One of the best “06880 stories” ever. A real joy. many thanks, Dan

  2. Richard Fogel

    Very successful family. Great story with in depth connections to the high flyers. Where there is money there are politicians. Where there is money the famous ate close

  3. A great article about an iconic Westport family thanks Dan.

  4. Nancy Axthelm

    Beyond fabulous!
    The story.
    The house.
    The history.
    And the amazing, accomplished, activist Liz!
    Thanks Dan.

  5. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Great Story!
    I knew some of the Milwe’s friends, from their many gatherings,’Bea’s Folly’, back in the 1970’s-;(one old friend of Sid’s- Always Raved about ‘Town Fair’-
    (‘Esp. their cheesecake!!’ 🙂

  6. Valerie Fischel

    A lovely story about an amazing family.
    I am privileged to call them friends, from the very beginning.
    My parents, who also lived on Saugatuck Shores, were close friends of Bea and Sid. Their legacy is truly epic.

  7. mary hoffman

    Agree, legacy is truly epic. I look forward to the next chapter. Liz keeps it exciting

  8. Lauri Levitt

    Wonderful story, and an amazing family.

  9. Celeste Champagne

    Another amazing story from “06880”. So good to learn of all the amazing people past and present living here.

  10. Susan Siegelaub Katz

    Thanks for this great story, Dan. I remember some of it – it was definitely the Black Panthers that got the most attention from my parents and their friends.

  11. A wonderful piece about wonderful people past and present. An important chapter in Westport history and forever “Bea’s Folly” Thank you Dan!

  12. Velma Heller

    What a wonderful article – such an authentic look at our community history through the lens of this beautiful home and the family who made it so special. So many great memories.

  13. Fabulous story about Bea’s Folly and the amazing Milwe family! Liz has certainly followed in her parent’s’ epic footsteps as a true force of nature. I will always treasure the times I’ve spent at Bea’s Folly and Liz and Peter’s legendary gatherings! All the best to Liz in her next chapter! I know she’ll rock it!

  14. Bobbi Essagof

    A very special home not only because of the artwork, the views, the delicious meals and the feeling that everyone is welcome but because of all the warmth and love that has and still fills “Bea’s Folly. I’m confident that the party will go on as Liz will take that warmth and love with her anywhere she goes.

  15. I’ll leave it for history to judge whether it was good for race relations to have wealthy white Westport folks in waterfront homes throw celebrity-laced bashes for the Black Panthers — an organization quite far from the mainstream of working and middle class Black families.

    Certainly it did not burnish the political reputations of Maestro Leonard Bernstein, his wife, Felicia, and their 90 or so guests at the infamous “Radical Chic” party in their Park Avenue penthouse.

    While many of us are familiar with Tom Wolfe’s take-down of the event (see https://nymag.com/docs/07/05/070529radical_chic.pdf) ,even the liberal New York Times took offense in an editorial on January 16, 1970.

    “Emergence of the Black Panthers as the romanticized darlings of the politico‐cultural jet set is an affront to the majority of black Americans. This so‐called party, with its confusion of Mao‐Marxist ideology and Fascist para‐militarism, is fully entitled to protection of its members’ constitutional rights. It was to make sure that those rights are not abridged by persecution masquerading as law‐enforcement that a committee of distinguished citizens has recently been formed.

    In contrast, the group therapy plus fund‐raising soirée at the home of Leonard Bernstein, as reported in this newspaper yesterday, represents the sort of elegant slumming that degrades patrons and patronized alike. It might be dismissed as guilt‐relieving fun spiked with social consciousness, except for its impact on those blacks and whites seriously working for complete equality and social justice. It mocked the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday was solemnly observed throughout the nation yesterday.

    Black Panthers on a Park Avenue pedestal create one more distortion of the Negro image. Responsible black leadership Is not likely to cheer as the Beautiful People create a new myth that Black Panther Is Beautiful.”

    • Dermot Meuchner

      Using The NY Times as a reference is questionable. The Panthers true ideologues like Fred Hampton were Trotskyite’s , 4th international socialist’s. He was about class not race, but you would never know that reading corporate news or blogs for that matter. The Overton Window is getting smaller day by day.

      • Dermot, clearly you know a lot more than I about the intricacies of the Black Panthers and the various (and mostly extinct) splinter groups of worldwide Communism. If, however, you want to make the case that Marxism-Leninism is the answer to solving racism and class exploitation, I’d say you have a big challenge on your hands!

  16. This story serves of course as a tribute to the MIlwe family. Yet, it also serves as a tribute to the work and writing of Dan Woog.

  17. Beautifully written story about a family, and place, that has always reflected the best off Westport, and given its best to the town. It’s wonderful that Liz is moving just around the corner – the spirit of Bea’s Folly will live on, just at a different house number.

  18. Stephen Axthelm

    My best, best wishes to Liz and her co-host – my sister Nancy, for the upcoming wonderful event on the 20th in support of the serious and sincere Jim Himes!

  19. I felt I had arrived at the political big time when Bea and Sid held a fundraiser for my first race for State Representative for my Norwalk-Westport district that included Saugatuck Shores in 1986. I won!