In any discussion about the history and settlement of Westerly, the most obvious starting point is the Misquamicut Purchase of 1661. With the purchase of a large tract of land known as Ascomacut/Mishquamicuk, the groundwork was laid for the founding of Westerly. In essence, the history of the area known today as a beach resort, can be divided into three distinct phases: The Pioneer Era (1632-1894), The Pleasant View Era (1894-1928), and the Misquamicut Era (1928-present).
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The Pioneer Era,1632-1894
While the very early history of Misquamicut is largely unknown due in large part to the lack of written records, it is believed that prior to the year 1632, the land was settled upon by the Pequot Tribe. Between 1632 and 1635, a war was waged between the Pequots and the Narragansett Tribe led by Canonicus, his nephew Miantonomoh, and Chief Sosoa.
In victory, the Narragansetts took control of the land which later became Misquamicut. As a token of their appreciation for Sosoa’s service in the tribal war, he was gifted the land totaling more than 20,000 acres. In 1635, a devastating hurricane, perhaps ever more destructive than the famed Hurricane of 1938, struck New England. There are not any known written accounts of this storm in southern Rhode Island, but it almost certainly ravaged what little existed in Misquamicut.
On June 29, 1660, Chief Sosoa sold the land comprising Misquamicut and its environs to a company of men from Newport who intended to settle upon the land. The deed was signed by five white men, Jeremy, Latham, and Henry Clarke, George Webb, and George Gardiner. On June 25, 1661, Miantonomoh’s wife, Wawaloam, provided a deposition affirming that Sosoa was given the land, confirming his right to sell the land. The land, which covered a span roughly ten miles wide by twenty miles long, was then divided into eighteen shares. The purchasers of this land are said to have settled on it starting in 1661. The entirety of the purchase included much of what is today Westerly, Richmond, Hopkinton, and Charlestown.
The land that consists of the area that is today known as Misquamicut had a fairly unremarkable history over the next two centuries. According to one account of the history of that area, from 1661 to 1894: “whites cultivated the land in the rear of the shore and prospered.” Virtually nothing else is known about the history of Misquamicut during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Pleasant View Era, 1894-1928
By the late 19th century, Misquamicut was little more than land for cultivation and home to few permanent residents. That all changed starting in 1894, when a prominent local man named Courtland B. Bliven noticed the natural beauty of Misquamicut and recognized its potential as a summer resort. That same year, Bliven constructed the first cottage in the area and named it ‘Pioneer.’ Bliven’s wife also contributed to the area’s history by giving it the name Pleasant View, which it would retain for the next 34 years.
The construction of homes in the area was somewhat slow initially. In an atlas from 1895, there were only seven cottages listed on Atlantic Avenue in Pleasant View. At that time, it appears that the road was a relatively short one, extending between the intersection of Crandall Avenue and Narragansett Beach (later Misquamicut State Beach). Between 1894 and 1903, 28 cottages were built in the area, an average of more than three per year.
In 1903, Pleasant View saw the completion of its first hotel, the Pleasant View House, built by James Collins. The hotel was initially torn down in 1917 and rebuilt shortly thereafter. This second building survived for over two decades until it was irreparably damaged by the Hurricane of 1938. A third version of the hotel eventually opened once again in 1940.
In 1904, C. B. Bliven, the man who started the migration to Pleasant View in 1894, opened the area’s second hotel, the Wigwam. This hotel also suffered extensive damage in the Hurricane of 1938. The site later became Paddy’s Wigwam and is where Paddy’s Beach Club stands today. Another long-standing hotel in Pleasant View is the Andrea, which initially opened as a guest house named “Hate to Quit It” in 1912 before taking on its current name in 1919. Before St. Clare’s Chapel opened, church services were held in the dining room of the Andrea which also contained a library that was operated by local nuns.