Misquamicut State Beach (1959)
Misquamicut has a relatively short history as a state beach, about fifty years. It opened in 1959. However, the beach and recreational scene at this location dates back another fifty years to just after 1900, when private homeowners and small businessmen from Westerly put up cottages and a couple of hotels. Within a decade or two this community was connected to the Westerly town center and the nearby posh resort community of Watch Hill by a trolley. It acquired stores and a post office. It was known at first as Pleasant View. It was a strip of sand between Watch Hill on the west and Weekapaug on the east, with a bridge over the breachway at Weekapaug. The beach divided the ocean waters from the Winnapaug pond, a salt pond that provided a sheltered place to sail and a protected place for a childrens’ bathing area.
Although there are still private beach houses and local commercial services on this ocean strand, on three occasions in the 20th century, Misquamicut’s slate was wiped clean by hurricanes. In 1938, 1944, and 1954 just about every structure along the beach was flattened, washed out to sea, or damaged to the point of being uninhabitable. Following the last big storm in that trifecta, Governor Dennis Roberts moved to have the state condemn a mile-long stretch of beach to create Misquamicut State Beach.
The area is rich in seaside post card lore. Mostly, the views depicted are the cottages and bungalows. Almost all appear under the title of Pleasant View. There are also depictions of the ‘Adams Express,’ as the trolley was known, or of hotels like the Wigwam, the Pleasant View House, the Atlantic View House, or the Andrea. There was also a casino for dancing, for roller skating, big bands, and a shore dinner hall. In 1928, the Pleasant View name was officially replaced at the post office by the name Misquamicut. It’s of Indian origin, meaning “Red Fish,” a reference to the Atlantic salmon, common to the Pawcatuck River and also the original name for the entire Westerly area which was settled in 1661.
Misquamicut has always enjoyed a summer population balanced by Westerly area locals and large influxes of Connecticut residents. The state beach almost had to close in 1992 when its forty year old septic system failed and the Division of Parks and Recreation was not allowed to build a new leach field. At this time, a solution involving the Clivus Corporation of Lawrence, Massachusetts and DEM resulted in the Clivus Compost Toilet System. This waterless toilet system allowed Misquamicut State Beach to stay open and provided a model for other state beaches.
A new bathing pavilion opened in 1999. This village-like structure includes a bathhouse building, a concession building that includes a gift shop and offices, a lifeguard tower and shade gazebos. Decking is made from a compound of wood and recycled plastic. A $700,000 renovation of the parking area was completed in the year 2000.
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