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Ida Lewis: The Girl Who Kept Lime Rock Burning
by [?]

The girls climbed the spiral staircase leading up to the light, and looked with wonder not unmixed with awe at the great lamp which was always filled and trimmed for immediate use–saw the large bell which tolled continuously during storm or fog; then they went down again to the sunshiny out of doors, and were shown the boat-house, not so far back of the light that it would be difficult to reach in a storm.

It was all a fairy residence to those young girls, and little could they imagine that bright-eyed Ida, who was about to become a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, was to be known in later years as the Grace Darling of America, because of her heroic life on that small promontory in Baker’s Bay!

The Lewis family settled in the lighthouse as speedily as possible, and when their simple household goods were arranged, the island home was a pretty and a comfortable place, where the howling winds of winter or the drenching, depressing fogs of all seasons would have no chance to take from the homelike cheer inside, no matter how severe they were. Books, pictures, a large rag rug, a model of a sloop, made by Captain Hosea, family portraits belonging to his wife–whose girlhood had been spent on Block Island as the daughter of Dr. Aaron C. Wiley, and to whose ears the noise of wind and waves was the music of remembered girlhood–all these added to the simple interior of the lighthouse, while out of doors there was, as Ida said, “All the sea, all the sky, all the joy of the great free world, and plenty of room to enjoy it!”

And enjoy it she certainly did, although she had to rise early and eat the plainest of fare, for the pay of a lighthouse-keeper would not allow of many luxuries. At night she was in bed and fast asleep before her friends on land had even thought of leaving their amusements or occupations for sleep. It was a healthy life, and Ida grew broad of shoulders, heavier in weight and as muscular as a boy. Every morning she inspected her boat, and if it needed bailing out or cleaning she was at work on it before breakfast; then at the appointed hour she was ready to row her younger brothers and sisters to the mainland to school. Like a little housekeeper, after dropping them, she went to market in Newport for her mother, and sometimes her boat would be seen crossing the bay more than once a morning, if there were many supplies to be carried over; then the children must be rowed back after school hours. Small wonder that Ida came to know every rock in the bay, and was able to steer her boat safely in and out among the many obstructions which were a peril to less intelligent mariners.

Towering over all neighboring buildings, the Lime Rock Light stood on its rocky ledge, clearly seen by men on vessels entering or leaving Narragansett Bay, and by officers and men at Fort Adams, as well as by those who lived within sight of the light, and it came to be a daily word, “Watch for the girl,” for Ida sturdily rowed across the bay, no matter how furious the storm, how dense the fog.

Late one afternoon, after visiting a friend, she was rowing from Newport at the hour when a snub-nosed schooner sailed slowly into the harbor on its way from New York to Newport with every sign of distress visible among its crew, for not even the Captain knew where lay the channel of safety between the perilous rocks, and the fog was thick.

Ida saw the schooner, and guessed its dilemma. Rowing as close to it as she could, she signaled to the captain to follow her, and her words were carried to him on the heavy air:

“Come on! Don’t be afraid!”

Obediently he went on, as the girl directed, and reached the dock of his destination in safety, where he shook hands heartily with his bright-eyed guide before she pushed off again for her island home. Later he spread the news among his mates that there was a “boss in Baker’s Bay who knew what she was about,” and his advice was, “In danger look for the dark-haired girl in a row-boat and follow her.”