WESTERLY — Charles and Amy Trefes sat on the patio in front of their Windjammer Surf Bar in Misquamicut on a recent October morning, facing the sparkling waters of Block Island Sound, and talking about the history of Atlantic Beach Park, which has been in the Trefes family for 100 years.
The Windjammer, located directly on the beach, halfway between Weekapaug and Watch Hill, is just one piece of the Trefes property, once called Atlantic Beach Casino, which sat square at the end of what was once the Norwich-Westerly trolley line.
"My grandfather bought the property in 1921," said Charles, who is also the president of the Misquamicut Business Association. "Then it went to my uncle and parents and then to me. It has never actually left the family."
"I grew up on this beach ... surfing, and working the rides," added Charles, as he looked out toward the ocean. "It was the greatest. It was like my own little Disney World."
It was an unusually warm day for mid-October, so the place was buzzing with patrons, some enjoying lunch, some heading to fish or walk on the beach, and others — a few accompanied by four-legged friends — just sitting and gazing at the ocean.
"We are pet friendly," Amy said with a smile, "We even have a dog menu. We want people to know they can bring whoever they want, whenever they want. It's great to see families here ... especially with their pets."
Charles, the third generation of Trefeses to run the Atlantic Beach Park, nodded in agreement.
"Some people don't even realize we stay open after Labor Day," he said, explaining that while the business may close for a few weeks in January for cleaning, the kitchen and the bar stay open pretty much all year.
The beachfront property, once owned by the Norwich Trolley Company, was purchased in 1921 by Trefes' grandparents, Harry and Julia Trefes, who left the property to their sons, Elias "Lou" Trefes and Charles H. Trefes. Charles H. died in 2009 and Lou a year ago in October 2020.
While Charles and Amy said they hoped to have a summer long centennial celebration in 2021, the uncertainty of the pandemic forced them to rethink their plans and postpone the anniversary festivities until next year.
"It will have to be 101," said Charles.
Atlantic Beach Park was once a sprawling 12-acre property, Charles said, "one full block" that later grew to include the Bayview Fun Park, which included the Water Wizz, go-karts and batting cages across the street, on Winnapaug Pond. The main building, back on the beach side, once housed a popular roller skating rink, which closed in 1989 although visitors walk across the original hardwood floors to this day. Charles' cousins now own the pondside property.
Today, Atlantic Beach Park includes the Windjammer, Dusty's Dairy Bar — which was moved inside from its streetside spot last year — an arcade and the historic Herschell-Spillman carousel.
"We have the distinction of being the second-oldest family-run amusement park in the country," Trefes said. "We've had a number of rides on and off over the years."
Although the park has had a Ferris wheel, and a number of "kiddie rides," he said, it's the carousel that is most impressive.
The actual mechanism for the carousel was built in 1915 and is one of the oldest in the country, Charles said. "It came from the Rocky Point Amusement Park."
And several of the Marcus Illions horses date back to another century.
Illions, once called "the Michelangelo of carousel carvers" by The New York Times, is recognized as "one of the two greatest artists of the carousel world," according to the National Carousel Association.
"My horses were carved between 1890 and 1920," Charles said. "They were all hand-carved."
The carousel was closed last summer, Amy said, in order to protect the antique wood.
Had they opened, she said, they would have had to regularly wipe down the horses with disinfectant, something they were reluctant to do to the antique wood.
"The chemicals do terrible things," she said.
As do storms, Charles said, noting that either he, his father, uncle or grandparents, have "seen 'em all."
That includes the 1938 hurricane, Hurricane Bob in 1991 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Superstorm Sandy, he said, "was a mess," tearing up the parking lot, and causing thousands of dollars of damage.
"They were finding old, rusted roller skates in the pond after Sandy," he said. "But we survived. We're still here and we don't plan on going anywhere."
The Trefeses, who met online roughly a dozen years ago, were married last year "during COVID," Amy said.
The two spend most of their time at the Windjammer, Amy added. In the summer months, they are joined by Charles' daughter, Alliandra Trefes, 16, a student at Westerly High school.
"She's probably the youngest person in the country who can grease a carousel," Charles said with a smile.
"We are very hands on," said Amy. "We work about 120 hours a week."
"One hundred and sixty," said Charles wryly.
"I'm never happy," he said. "There's always room for improvement, always something you can change. In this business, you can't become stagnant.
"We try something new each year."
The Trefeses said they have a busy schedule of events planned for the months ahead, including weekend brunches and a Halloween Party on Oct. 30.
"We even have those bubbles so people can sit in them outside in the winter months," he said.
Despite the many "legends, stories and history" of the Trefes property in Misquamicut, Charles said, their focus is now on "looking forward."
"What my family owned and did in the past is history," he said. "Now it's our time."
Maybe next summer, he said, they'll have a proper summerlong centennial celebration with fireworks and clambakes, and "roll-back prices" on the menu.
"We don't want to wrap a 101-year celebration into one day," he said. "If Disney can celebrate their 50th anniversary over 18 months, we can do a hundred and one years in one season.