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 Ida Lewis Rock, RI    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Privately owned, no access without permission.
Description: Ida Lewis Rock Lighthouse was originally known as Lime Rock Light, due to its location atop Lime Rock, about 200 yards offshore from the southern side of Newport Harbor. The first tower on the site was built of stone in 1854 and was serviced by a keeper who rowed to the rock each day. As accessing the rock could be a nearly impossible task during the winter months, a one-room shack was constructed near the tower to serve as shelter for the keeper when he was unable to return to shore. In 1855, the Lighthouse Board recommended that a permanent keeper’s dwelling be added to the station, and the following year a two-story Greek Revival-inspired structure built with granite and brick was erected on the Lime Rock. A brick tower built into a corner of the dwelling supported a lantern room that housed a sixth-order Fresnel lens.

The station’s present name comes from its famous female keeper, Idawalley (Ida) Zorada Lewis. Ida’s father Hosea Lewis was named the first keeper at Lime Rock when it opened in 1854. In 1857, he had a crippling stroke, leaving the responsibility of minding the light to his wife. Since Mrs. Lewis was busy taking care of Hosea as well as an invalid daughter Harriet, sixteen-year-old Ida eventually took over all duties at the station, becoming keeper in everything but name.

Besides taking care of the demanding keeper’s chores, Ida Lewis ferried her siblings to shore daily so they could attend school and was responsible for rescuing dozens of people from the frigid and dangerous waters near Lime Rock. Her first rescue was in 1858, when four small boys sailing near Lime Rock capsized their small boat. Ida quickly set off in her rowboat and pulled them out of the water, one at a time, over her boat’s stern. Ida was soon a skilled rower. In fact, her brother used to brag “Ida knows how to handle a boat, she can hold one to windward in a gale better than any man I ever saw wet an oar. Yes and do it too, when the sea is breaking over her!”

A number of those she rescued were soldiers from Fort Adams attempting to return to base after a long evening of liquid refreshment in Newport. On March 29, 1869, Ida’s mother saw a boat capsize in the harbor and called for Ida to rush to their aid. Ida, who was suffering from a cold, sprang from her feet, leaving a cozy fire, and rushed from the dwelling without grabbing a coat. Two soldiers had started from Newport to Fort Adams under the guidance of a small boy, when the craft was swamped in the harbor. The boy perished soon after the vessel capsized, but the soldiers clung to the upset boat until they were rescued by Ida. Harper’s Weekly featured an article on this heroic rescue, and Ida soon became nationally famous. The grateful soldiers gave her a gold watch, and the townspeople of Newport gave her a boat, christened Rescue, the following Independence Day, which was declared Ida Lewis Day.

An article in the New York Tribune of April 15, 1869 dubbed Ida the Grace Darling of America, an appellation that remained with her throughout her life. Grace Darling was a famous English heroine who helped her father rescue nine people from a shipwreck in the North Sea. Susan B. Anthony, who dedicated her life to woman suffrage, twice praised the contemporary Ida in her journal.

Ida received a silver medal from the Life Saving Benevolent Association in 1869, and was visited by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875. In 1880, she became the first female to receive the gold medal for heroism from the Carnegie Foundation. In 1881, she was awarded another medal from the United States Lifesaving Service for saving two soldiers from Fort Adams. The two men had been walking across the frozen harbor back to Fort Adams from town when they broke through the ice. Hearing their calls for help, Lewis ran across the ice to them and pulled them to safety with a clothesline.

When Ida was asked where she found the strength to accomplish her rescues she answered “I don’t know, I ain’t particularly strong. The Lord Almighty gives it to me when I need it, that’s all. He can do anything you know.”

Hosea Lewis died in 1872, and even though Ida had been keeper for years, it was the custom to appoint the keeper’s widow as replacement, and Ida’s mother was officially given the position. In 1879, with the help of Senator Ambrose Burnside, Ida Lewis was appointed official keeper at Lime Rock Lighthouse when her mother retired. She remained keeper until 1911, when her brother Rudolph found the seventy-two year old lying on the floor in her bedroom. A doctor was summoned to the station from Newport, but Ida passed away two days later. Rudolph had assisted his sister with station duties for a number of years and remained at Lime Rock until the new keeper, named Edward Jansen, arrived.

Jansen, who had previously been keeper at Sandy Hook Light in New Jersey, arrived in Newport with his wife, who shortly thereafter gave birth to a baby girl. Lighthouse people to the core, they named the new arrival Ida Lewis Jansen. A headline in the New York Times announced the “First Baby of Lime Rock.”

Keeper Jansen also had the opportunity to save a few lives while on the duty at Lime Rock. In 1918, he rescued two men whose boat had capsized during a storm. Jansen remained keeper until the station was deactivated in July of 1927, at which time he transferred to Borden Flats Light.

The Lighthouse Service had a long-standing rule against naming a lighthouse after anything other than its geographical location, but in 1925 Commissioner of Lighthouses G.R. Putnam officially changed the name of Lime Rock Light to Ida Lewis Rock Light Station.

In 1927, the light was transferred to a thirty-foot steel tower placed in front of the dwelling and automated. The following year, the 100-foot long, 80-foot wide Ida Lewis Rock was sold at auction for $7,200 to Narragansett Bay Regatta Association. The buildings and grounds were transformed into the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, and a boardwalk was built connecting the mainland to the rock. The steel tower light was switched off for good in 1963. In tribute to America’s best-known lighthouse keeper, the lighthouse that bears her name is lighted as a private aid to navigation during the summer months each year.

The original sixth-order Fresnel lens, which had been placed in storage on Staten Island, returned to the Yacht Club in 1932 and was displayed there for a while. The lens was later given to the Newport Historical Society.

References

  1. America’s Atlantic Coast Lighthouses, Kenneth Kochel, 1996.
  2. Northeast Lights: Lighthouses and Lightships, Rhode Island to Cape May, New Jersey, Robert Bachand, 1989.
  3. The Keeper's Log, Fall 1984.

Location: Located in Newport Harbor.
Latitude: 41.47758
Longitude: -71.32597

For a larger map of Ida Lewis Rock Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: The lighthouse is now part of the private Ida Lewis Yacht Club, but it can be viewed from a pier adjacent to the yacht club. To reach the pier, take Thames Street south out of Newport, and then turn right onto Wellington Avenue. The pier will be on your right. A boat ride is necessary to get a good view of the actual light, located on the west side of the structure. Rhode Island Bay Cruises offers a 10 Lighthouses of Narragansett Bay cruise that passes by the Ida Lewis Rock Lighthouse.

Ida Lewis' gravesite is located in the Common Ground Cemetery in Newport on Farewell Street between the Newport Bridge and the causeway that leads to Goat Island. To find the gravesite, go to the southwest corner of the burial grounds. There you will see street signs in the cemetery. Ida Lewis' tombstone is located near the intersection of Clarke and Holmes.

The lighthouse is owned by the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. Grounds/dwelling closed.

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