Rhode Island Lighthouses

Lime Rock Lighthouse
(Ida Lewis Lighthouse)

Ida Lewis Outside of Lime Rock Lighthouse
© 2004 R. Holmes 

Location: South side of Newport Harbor
Location: 1854 - presentl Lat 41 28 38 N - Long 71 19 33 W
Established: 1854

Lighthouse Constructed: 1854
Replaced with Skeleton Tower: 1927
Discontinued: 1963
Original Illuminating Apparatus: Sixth Order Fresnel Lens
Current Illuminating Apparatus:Small electric lamp, lit May to October.
Height: Lighthouse: 13 feet (1906)

Height: Skeleton tower: Light is 40 feet above water
Status: Yacht Club
Light Characteristic: Lighthouse: Fixed White (1873)
Light Characteristic:Lighthouse:Fixed Red (1906)

Light Characteristic: Skeleton tower: Flashing White every 3 seconds (1940)
LightCharacteristic: Skeleton tower:Flashing White every 5 seconds (1950)

Light Characteristic: May to October - Fixed White (2016)
Light Characteristic: November to April- None (2016)
Range: Lighthouse: 11 miles (1873)
Range:Lighthouse:7½ miles (1906)

Range: Skeleton tower: No range is given in the 1950 Light List. A similar light with the same Range:Skeletontower: candlepower (60) and Illuminating Apparatus (200mm) as Ida Lewis Rock Light Range:Skeletontower: had a range of 7 miles.
Location: Established: Lighthouse Constructed: Replaced with Skeleton Tower: Discontinued: Original Illuminating Apparatus: Current Illuminating Apparatus: Height: Status: Light Characteristic: Range:

Ida Lewis, who full name was Idawalley Zorada Lewis, was born on February 25, 1842 in a house on the corner of Spring Street and Bowery Street in Newport. Her father, Hosea Lewis, was a ship's pilot for the United States Revenue Cutter Service until he was appointed Lime Rock lighthouse's keeper in 1854. The original light was a square granite tower equipped with a sixth order Fresnel lens. Hosea, had to row 200 yards to reach to the light. During the winter storms this was difficult and at times impossible. A small one-room building was built on Lime Rock to serve as a temporary shelter if the keeper couldn't get to shore.

In 1855, the Lighthouse Board recommended that a permanent dwelling be built on the Lime Rock. A keeper's dwelling was attached to the tower the following year. Ida and her family moved into the lighthouse on June 29, 1856

Ida at Lime Rock Lighthouse
Ida rowing to the rescue
© 2004 R. Holmes 

Hosea had a stroke in 1857 and was permanently disabled. His wife Zoradia and their daughter Ida took over operation of the light. Hosea Lewis died in 1872. His wife was appointed the keeper. Her second daughter was very sick and required most of her time. This left Ida to care for the light. She was the keeper in everything but name.

Ida Lewis' Birthplace

In 1879, with help of Senator Ambrose Burnside, Ida was appointed the light's keeper after her mother resigned. It had been suggested to Ida's mother that if she resigned Ida would replace her.

During her years at the Lime Rock Light, Ida saved over a dozen people from drowning. Ida became nationally known in 1869, when an article about her saving two soldiers appeared in Harper's Weekly. The rescue occurred on March 29, 1869, when she saved the two soldiers after their boat was swamped during a winter storm. It was just after dawn when Ida's mother looked out of her window and saw two soldiers clinging to an overturned boat. She cried out and woke up Ida. Ida jumped out of bed and ran out of the lighthouse barefooted and in a light dress. She ran to the lighthouse's boat. It took fifteen minutes to launch it. She rowed toward them. When she finally reached them, one of the soldiers said, "It's only a girl." The shock of seeing Ida caused him to lose his grip on the overturned boat and sink beneath the water. He popped back to the surface after a few seconds. Ida grabbed his hair and pulled him into her boat. The second soldier was so cold he couldn't move. Ida grabbed him and pulled him into the boat. The soldiers gave Ida a gold watch for saving them. The citizens of Newport presented her with a boat.

Ida rowing to the rescue
Ida rowing to the rescue
© 2004 R. Holmes 

In 1881 Ida was awarded two medals for lifesaving. The first medal was from the Humane Society of Massachusetts. The silver medal was given to Ida at Lime Rock lighthouse by Thomas Motley, vice-president of the society. A March 20, 1881 article in The New York Times described the medal.

The medal is 2½ inches in diameter, ¾ of an inch thick, and is of solid silver. On the rim are the words, "Reward of merit, courage, and perseverance." The face bears the inscription, "To Ida Lewis, the heroine of Lime Rock, for her many heroic and successful efforts in saving human lives." On the rim of the reverse are the words, "Humane Society of Massachusetts, 1791." In the Centre is a raised emblem of the society; at the top is a representation of a small wooden hut, with word "Refuge" on a scroll; underneath are two boats crews, clasped hand, and a ship riding on the waves.

The second medal was a gold Life-saving Medal of the United States Life-saving service. She received it for saving two men from drowning. The men were walking across the frozen harbor from Newport to Fort Adams. The ice broke and they fell into the water. Ida heard their cries for help. She ran out of the lighthouse with a clothesline and went across the ice to the men. She threw the clothesline to them and pulled them out of the water. An article in the November 5, 1881 issue of
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper has a sketch of Ida rescuing the men.

Medals Awarded to Ida Lewis
Medals Awarded to Ida Lewis
Putnam Magazine 1910 

In 1889, Ida saved her seventy year old uncle Henry Lewis. He was returning from a fishing trip in a small boat and fell overboard near the lighthouse. Ida saw the accident and rescued him.

Ida Lewis in Her Rowboat in 1890
Ida Lewis In Her Rowboat
The Ladies' Home Journal 1890 

Andrew Carnegie, one of the world's richest men, placed Ida on his private pension list, guaranteeing her a pension of $30 a month for life. Ida put the money in a bank account for her brother Rudolph, the assistant keeper of Lime Rock lighthouse.

Ida's lifesaving continued into her late sixties. On August 4, 1909, five girls were rowing around Newport Harbor. The Commonwealth, a 425 foot steamship, was leaving Newport on its way to New York. The wake from it swamped the girls' boat and dumped them into the water. The girls screamed for help. Sixty-eight year old Ida heard the girls' cries and launched her boat, the Rescue. She rowed to the girls and pulled them into her boat.

Ida and Family
Ida - Ida's Mother - Ida's Sister
Ida and family
Courtesy of James W. Claflin 

In 1910 the U.S. Life Saving Service introduced a motor life boat. It was thirty-six feet long and made of mahogany. When the Brenton Point lifesaving station received the first one of the new boats, they named it after Ida Lewis.

On October 21, 1911 Rudolph found Ida laying on lighthouse's kitchen floor unconscious from a stroke. He carried her upstairs and rowed ashore to get help. When the doctor arrived he found her in such a weakened state that he held out no hope for her recovery. Ida lingered for three days before she died.

Rudolph believed the stroke was caused by a newspaper report that Lime Rock lighthouse was being closed. In October 24, 1911 article in The New York Times he said, "It was a great surprise and shock to her".

Ida's funeral was on October 27, 1911. It was held at the Thames Street Methodist Episcopal Church. Her pallbearers were six soldiers from the coastal artillery battery at Fort Adams. The bells of the other lighthouses in Newport tolled during the ceremony.

As Ida left the Lime Rock Lighthouse for the last time. Her body was placed in the harbor master's boat, the Defender, and carried across the harbor to Newport. Her brother Rudolph said, "That is the way poor Ida wanted to leave; she never wanted to part from the lighthouse until she was taken to her grave." Shortly after Ida's death, the city of Newport promised to put a tombstone at her grave. After several months of inaction, Mary Jane Dewick a fifteen year old from Newport started a fund to buy a tombstone. Most of the donations were small, a quarter or fifty cents and came from the children and citizens of Newport. When the fund reached $200, B.A. Stanton of Cranston was commissioned to carve the tombstone. On May 16, 1913 it was placed at Ida Lewis' grave.

Ida Lewis' Tombstone
Conanicut Lighthouse
 Lewis, Ida, Memorial for Heroine of Sea Providence Public LIbrary Digital Collections used under CC BY-SA 4.0

After Ida Lewis Yacht Club purchased Ida Lewis Lighthouse in 1928. The yacht club wanted to return its original state. They started to collect artifact related to Ida Lewis. They also wanted the six order Fresnel lens returned to Ida Lewis Lighthouse.

The Ida Lewis Yacht Club asked the government if they could have the lens. The government agreed. But it would be a loan. The government would keep ownership of the lens.

The government felt the lens was so important, that they had the lighthouse tender Pansy transport it from the third district depot in Staten Island, New York to Newport. It was delivered on October 28, 1932. Later in the day Ida Lewis Yacht Club officials, including Commodore Marion Eppley and Dr. Horace Beck, held a installation ceremony for the lens. In 1924 the light was renamed the Ida Lewis Light in her honor. A light on a skeleton tower replaced Ida Lewis Lighthouse when it closed in 1927. It remained in service until 1963, when it was deactivated. The land and building was sold in 1928. It was later turned into the Ida Lewis Yacht Club.

Original Lime Rock Lamp
Original Lime Rock Lamp.
Courtesy of   Robert English.  

In 1996 the Keeper class of buoy tender was introduced to the Coast Guard fleet. The first ship in the class, the WLM-551, was named after Ida Lewis. The ship is stationed at Goat Island across Newport Harbor from Ida Lewis Lighthouse.

Keeper Class Buoy Tender WLM-551 - Ida Lewis
Ida rowing to the rescue
Courtesy of US Coast Guard 

A documentary, America's Forgotten Heroine: Ida Lewis, Keeper of the Light produced by Goodnight Irene Productions. The movie premiered on May 30, 2014 at the Casino Theatre at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. A DVD of the movie is available from Amazon for $14.99.

On February 25, 2017 Google honored Ida's 175th birthday with a Google Doodle on their U.S. homepage. It showed the 1881 rescue of two soldiers who fell through the ice in Newport Harbor. It also showed four other times Ida rescued men. The doodle was designed by Lydia Nichols

If you have photographs of Lime Rock Lighthouse or Ida Lewis that I can use on my web site, please contact me.

Lime Rock Lighthouse in 1900
Lime Rocks Lighthouse
 Courtesy of N.L. Stebbins

U.S. Lighthouse Society News
Wickie from NH
The Light Hearted Podcast ep 218 March 26, 2023
Author Lenore Skomal and filmmaker Nico Raineau discuss Ida Lewis
Updated 2/27/2017