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“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.”

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