Misquamicut Beach is considered one of the finest beaches in New England, attracting thousands of people every summer for a healthy dose of sun and fun. Much of Misquamicut’s charm comes from a small group of family-owned businesses that have been passed down from generation to generation. Many of these families migrated here and all brought with them a sense of pride in hard work and a community spirit. These hard-working people helped Misquamicut become the wonderful community we know today.
The history of the beach at Misquamicut goes way back to the first Paleo-Indians that came here to fish, hence the name Misquamicut which, in the Narragansett language, means place of the red fish. With the prosperity created by the Industrial Revolution, a leisure class began to go to the beach for recreational purposes. In the 1890s, a large tent city at the junction of Benson Avenue and Atlantic Avenue sprang up. The only building on the beach was Captain James Thompson’s Fish Hut.
Court Bliven and his family, who had been staying in tents, purchased a lot in 1894 and built the first cottage called the Pioneer. While inspecting the construction of the cottage Court’s wife Trudy, impressed by the view, exclaimed, “What a pleasant view.” And so the area was named Pleasant View Beach.
As more people came to the beach to enjoy the cool ocean breezes a real estate boom began. You could buy a 50-foot by 150-foot oceanfront lot for $50. In 1908, a trolley line was built down what is today Winnapaug Road all the way to the beach. By 1920 the fledgling resort had four major hotels, more than 120 cottages, and a post office. In 1928 the US Postal Service changed the name from Pleasant View Beach to its Narragansett Indian name, Misquamicut.
One of the earliest immigrants to open a business on the beach, that still exists today, was Harry Trefes. Harry came through Ellis Island in 1905 and later settled in Westerly. In 1921, he purchased the Atlantic Beach Casino. It had been a trolley park that was built by the trolley company to attract customers. The large wooden building had a dance hall, skating rink, carousel, and 200 bathhouses on the bottom floor. Harry changed the name to the Atlantic Beach Park. During the Hurricane of 38, the original building was completely destroyed.
I sat down with 91-year-old Elias Trefes, known as Lou, who reminisced about his father.
“The 38 hurricane washed the casino out, I was there at the time. We had a cottage facing the ocean. My father, mother, and I were sitting there eating breakfast when all of a sudden we heard this giant roar. We went out to the dining room and the wind had blown the roof off. My father said ‘I think we better go to our home in town.’ I cried all night because we had left my little Boston Terrier behind in the cottage. The next morning my father and I went down to see what had happened but the National Guard would not let you go any further than Shore Road. Shore Road was where all the debris had washed up from the storm. We drove down Shore Road and amazingly on a piece of our merry-go-round roof was my little dog. He survived the hurricane riding on that piece of roof. We lost all those people down there but my little dog survived.”
“After the 38 hurricane my father and Frank Enos went up to Lawrence, Massachusetts where there were a lot of old mills that closed after the depression. My father bought one and they took it apart and brought it down here. That’s where all the steel in the Windjammer came from. That’s the building that’s there today. My brother Charlie and I co-owned the business and ran it for 60 years.”
Today, the Trefes family properties are divided between Charles and Lou’s three children. The Atlantic Beach Park is owned by Charles Trefes, son of Charles. The main building, which once housed the roller skating rink, is the Windjammer Surf Bar and the Mariner Room. The Windjammer is a sports bar and restaurant that opens directly onto an oceanfront patio. On weekends this popular landmark has live entertainment. Enjoy their delicious seafood dishes, salads, wings, and amazing burgers as well as summer cocktails. After lunch or dinner enjoy the best soft-serve ice cream on the beach at Dusty’s Dairy Bar.
Along with an arcade and kiddie rides, the Atlantic Beach Park’s main attraction is its magnificent 1915 Herschell-Spillman Carousel with Illions horses. The carousel is one of only a few hundred still surviving in the country.
“My daughter, Alliandra, is 15 and probably the youngest person in the country that can actually grease an antique carousel,” said Charles. “She’s the fourth generation and she’s waiting in the wings.”
On the bayside of Atlantic Avenue Lou Trefes’s daughter, Sally Trefes Sorenson, opened the gift shop Horse of a Different Color. It’s the largest gift, souvenir, and beach supply store in Misquamicut. Sally grew up at the beach and from the time she was 12, she worked with her father doing just about every job at the Atlantic Beach Park. She ran the skating rink concession, bathhouses, the ticket booth, was a lifeguard, and when she turned 18, she bartended at the Windjammer. Sally also managed the Windjammer from 2010 to 2017.
In 1981, when Sally turned 21, her father thought it would be nice to have a gift shop at their end of the beach. He suggested that she open one on a family-owned property across the street. Sally was able to buy out a beach gift shop that was going out of business. It’s been a successful 40-year run but instead of retiring she is taking over the Water Wizz water slide next door and opening a coffee shop and beer/wine tasting room called the Sun & Sea Beanery and Tasting Room.
Lou’s son, Harry Trefes, owns the Bayview Fun Park. Harry decided to build a family entertainment center in 1995 on Trefes family land that was just a vacant lot on the bayside of Atlantic Avenue.
“The idea was to enhance family entertainment by catering to older kids and adults while the Atlantic Beach Park across the road featured rides for younger kids.”
The center features a small beach on the bay where you can rent a kayak or just chill. They do fishing charters, have an awarding winning 18-hole mini-golf course, a Super Slide, Slick Track Go-Karts, splashing bumper boats, two multi-speed dual softball/baseball batting cages, and a four-place bungee jump.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – there are countless family ties in Misquamicut!