Keeper Ida Lewis Rescues Three Men and Their Prized Animal on a Cold January Day in Newport, Rhode Island
Ida Lewis is Rhode Island’s most famous lighthouse keeper at Lime Rock Light in Newport Harbor. Since Lime Rock was surrounded by water with a constant current, the only way to reach the mainland was by boat. In the mid-19th century, it was highly unusual for a woman to handle a boat, but Ida Lewis rowed her siblings to school every weekday and fetched needed supplies from the town. By the age of 14, Ida had become known as the best swimmer and young rower in Newport. Her rowing skills, strength, and courage, came into play many times during her life at Lime Rock and its lighthouse. She is credited officially with saving 23 lives during her 39 years at Lime Rock Lighthouse, but many believe the number may be closer to 35. However, Ida Lewis never kept records of her lifesaving experiences.
Ida’s rescues were not only limited to people in need. One cold early morning in January 1877, three workers were carrying a precious sheep along the streets of Newport to its prominent owner. Winds were gusting, and the waves started heaving as a storm approached the harbor. Suddenly, the frisky animal broke away, ran through the Old Mill Wharf, and plunged into the icy waters. The three men followed after the sheep and grabbed Ida’s brother’s newly acquired skiff by Jones Bridge to set after the valuable prize. As they neared the sheep, the weather worsened quickly, and they found themselves in danger as the waves tossed around the small craft.
Ida was sewing by the window and saw the three men struggling in the waves with her brother’s new boat. She then observed a huge rogue wave wash over the tiny boat and capsize it, spilling the men into the freezing waters. She was out the door instantly and launching her lifeboat towards the survivors. She rowed as fast as she could hear the screams of the frightened three. As she neared the men struggling in the icy waters, she couldn’t help but chuckle from her exhausting efforts, as the attention of the men was still on the valuable sheep, which was still struggling in the rough waves nearby.
She hauled each man into the boat and then rowed all to shore. They were very grateful to Ida for rescuing them from what could have been a tragic situation. To their surprise, she decided she would oblige the survivors’ need to capture the animal and launched the boat out again in the bitter winds to capture the sheep. She managed to maneuver the craft next to the struggling creature and haul it into the vessel to safety. The animal didn’t seem to mind being out of the frigid waters and stayed in the boat as she brought it to the grateful men on shore. Though angered by the men taking his boat, Ida’s brother didn’t press any changes. Ida always loved the story and would frequently tell it years later.
Ida Lewis Rescue Painting Created by Artist John Witt:
Artist John Witt created the painting at the top of this page. His works are also included in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, and Coast Guard art collections and displayed in the U.S. National Archives. His art has been on exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, Society of Illustrators, Museum of American Illustrators, and other museums. He is also included in the permanent New Britain Museum of American Art collection. Thank you for your help and inspiration, and thanks to the Coast Guard.
Exploring Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is Rhode Island’s tourist capital, with waterfront concerts and events happening during summer. Tourists from around the world visit Newport’s famous elaborate mansions of the rich and famous that shaped America’s 19th and 20th centuries. The area is also called the world’s sailing capital, with yachts and ships touring around Narragansett Bay and its lighthouses. Although Ida Lewis (Lime Rock) light is not accessible to visitors as it is part of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, views of the beacon can be found from any boats that enter or leave the harbor. Other Newport lighthouses you can visit include Newport Harbor Lighthouse and Castle Hill Lighthouse, or you can take the Jamestown Newport Ferry across the harbor to view all the lighthouses in the area, with multiple stops along the way.
Enjoy your summer in Newport!
The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships: Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted Coal Schooners of New England. In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants were the ten original six-masted coal schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies and measured longer than a football field! This book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships, from their initial launchings, battling destructive storms, and their final voyages.
My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides memorable human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, including the stories involving the rescues and life of Ida Lewis mentioned above. You can explore plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions, including whale watching excursions, lighthouse tours, windjammer sailing tours and adventures, unique parks and museums, and even lighthouses you can stay overnight. You’ll also find plenty of stories of hauntings around lighthouses.
My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, provides memorable human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions you can explore and tours. Lighthouses and their nearby attractions are divided into regions for weekly and weekend explorers. Attractions and tours include whale watching, lighthouse tours, unique parks and museums, and lighthouses you can stay overnight. There are also stories of haunted lighthouses in these regions.
Included are stories of the life and legacy of Ida Lewis and her famous rescues, along with over 50 other stories in my book New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues & Other Tales. This image-rich book also contains vintage images provided by the Coast Guard and various organizations and paintings by six famous artists of the Coast Guard.
Copyright © Allan Wood Photography, do not reproduce without permission. All rights reserved.
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