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Lime Rock Light
(Ida Lewis Yacht Club)
Newport, Rhode Island
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History - Page Two
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.
click here for history page one

At the age of 27, Ida's celebrity status was approaching its peak. She was praised on the pages of Harper's Weekly, Leslie's, the New York Tribune and many other popular periodicals of the day.

At least two pieces of music were named for her-the Ida Lewis Waltz and the Rescue Polka Mazurka. Ida Lewis hats and scarves flew off store shelves.

It was estimated that 10,000 people visited Lime Rock in 1869. "Of these," reported the Boston Journal, "there were probably not twenty who compensated her for the trouble they gave. . . . People would land at the rock, prowl over the house, quiz the family, pry into the household affairs, patronizingly ask the age of each person and what they lived on, and how they felt when Ida was saving souls."

Ida and her parents were paid a visit by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869. According to some sources, the president's boat landed on the shore, and he got his feet wet when he stepped out. "I have come to see Ida Lewis," Grant happily explained," "and to see her I'd get wet up to my armpits if necessary."

During the same year, Vice President Schuyler Colfax also visited Lime Rock. Admiral Dewey and General Sherman were among the others who made the pilgrimage to Lime Rock in this period, and suffragist Susan B. Anthony twice praised Ida Lewis in her journal.

After an engagement of about four years, Ida was quietly married in 1870 to William H. Wilson of Fairfield, Connecticut. Ida went with her husband to Black Rock Harbor. Little is known of Ida's brief married life, except that she was desperately unhappy and soon returned to Lime Rock. Ida rejected divorce on religious grounds, but she and Wilson were permanently separated.

Ida's father, Hosea Lewis, died in 1872, and his widow became keeper, at least on paper. Ida, of course, had already been the primary keeper of the station for many years.

 

By 1877, the health of Ida's mother was failing, leaving her with increased housekeeping and care giving responsibilities. Her mother would remain ill and eventually died of cancer in 1887.

In November 1877, Ida saved the lives of three soldiers whose catboat had run into rocks to the west of the lighthouse. This rescue was particularly stressful for Ida, and it resulted in an illness -- probably diphtheria -- that lasted for months.

Ida finally received the official appointment as keeper in 1879, largely through the efforts of an admirer, General Ambrose Everett Burnside, the Civil War hero who became a Rhode Island governor and United States senator. With a salary of $750 per year, Ida was for a time the highest-paid lighthouse keeper in the nation. The extra pay was given "in consideration of the remarkable services of Mrs. Wilson in the saving of lives."

 A fanciful depiction of Ida Lewis from Ripley's Believe it or Not!
Courtesy of Cheryl Easterbrooks
In 1906, a friend was coming for a visit in a small boat when she fell overboard, and Ida rowed out and pulled her friend into her dory. Also in 1906, Ida became the recipient of a pension of $30 monthly from the Carnegie Hero Fund, and the American Cross of Honor Society awarded her a gold medal. The 1906 episode is often referred to as Ida's last rescue, but a newspaper story from August 5, 1909, tells us that Ida saved the lives of five young women whose rowboat was overturned by the steamer Commonwealth.

Ida wrote in 1907:

Sometimes the spray dashes against these windows so thick I can't see out, and for days at a time the waves are so high that no boat would dare come near the rock, not even if we were starving.

But I am happy. There's a peace on this rock that you don't get on shore. There are hundreds of boats going in and out of this harbor in summer, and it's part of my happiness to know that they are depending on me to guide them safely.

Early one morning in October 1911, Ida Lewis extinguished the light at Lime Rock for the final time. She became ill that morning and remained in bed for several days. Some say her apparent stroke resulted from worry over a false report that Lime Rock Light was about to be discontinued. Artillery practice at nearby Fort Adams was suspended out of respect for the keeper.

Ida Lewis died on October 25, 1911, at the age of 69. The bells of all the vessels in Newport Harbor tolled for Ida Lewis that night, and flags were at half staff throughout Newport. More than 1,400 people viewed her body at the Thames Street Methodist Church. Among the crowd that gathered to pay its respects were keepers Charles Schoeneman of Newport Harbor Light, Charles Curtis of Rose Island Light, O. F. Kirby of Gull Rocks Light, and Edward Fogerty of the Brenton Reef lightship. The captain and crew of a local lifesaving station in Newport were also present.

Edvard Jansen became the new keeper at Lime Rock. Shortly after Jansen became keeper, his wife gave birth to a baby girl, christened Ida Lewis Jansen. Like his predecessor, Jansen gained fame as a lifesaver, saving two men whose boat had overturned in a storm in 1918.

In 1924, the state legislature voted to change the name of Lime Rock to Ida Lewis Rock. Jansen remained keeper of Ida Lewis Rock Light until an automatic optic on a skeleton tower was installed near the old dwelling in 1927. The automated light was discontinued in 1963, and the skeleton tower was removed.

The buildings at Lime Rock were sold in 1928 for $7,200 and soon became the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. A new walkway was built to the property, and the old dwelling became the clubhouse. The Ida Lewis Yacht Club can be seen from many of the sightseeing boats out of Newport.

The original lens, manufactured by L. Sautter of Paris, is now on prominent display, along with other artifacts and photos of Ida. A small lamp is still lighted seasonally on the side of the building, serving more as a memorial than as an aid to navigation.

old photo of Lime Rock Light
Lime Rock during the period when an automated light on a skeleton tower served as the active aid to navigation. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

In 1995, the first of the new Coast Guard "keeper class" 175-foot buoy tenders was named the Ida Lewis. An actress portraying Ida was brought by horse-drawn carriage to the launching ceremony at the Marinette Marine Corporation in Wisconsin. The vessel's homeport is Newport. In 2001, crewmembers from the vessel spent time sprucing up Ida's gravesite.

Ida Lewis's gravestone is inscribed, "The Grace Darling of America, Keeper of Lime Rock Lighthouse, Newport Harbor. Erected by her many friends."

If you're visiting Newport you might also want to stop by the Common Ground Cemetery In Newport. Ida Lewis's grave is near the front entrance of the cemetery on Farewell Street (near Clarke Ave. in the cemetery).
In the summer of 2001 the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Ida Lewis restored the gravesite of their vessel's famous namesake. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
To learn about the keeper class cutters, click here.
Click here for photos of the USCGC Ida Lewis.

Keepers: Hosea Lewis (1854-1872); Zoradia Walley Lewis (1872-1879); Idawalley Zoradia (Ida) Lewis (1879-1911); Edward Jansen (1911-1927).

click here for history page one
Most of the images on this page are from the collection of Edward Rowe Snow and are used with the permission of Dorothy Bicknell
Last updated 12/23/11
Jeremy D'Entremont. Do not reproduce any part of this website without permission of the author.
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