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Lighthouses of the North Atlantic, Great Stories

New London Harbor Light, New London, Connecticut - 1760

This light was built in 1760 -- from lottery proceeds from civic-minded Colonial citizens of New London -- it was the 4th (colonial) lighthouse built in the U.S.

The original light survived the Revolutionary War, but developed a 10-foot crack in 1799. It was torn down and rebuilt by the U.S. government. This tower and the separate keeper’s dwelling (built in 1863) still stand.

The light was sold in 1928 to a private party, and it is not open to the public. Best view from Eastern Point Park.

New London Ledge Lighthouse, New London, Connecticut - 1905

A mile or two in the Long Island Sound from New London Light and in clear visibility, sits the New London Ledge Lighthouse, built in 1905. A three-story, 14-room lighthouse that is an architectural hybrid, evolving from Colonial Revival (Georgian) and Second Empire styles -- a real one-of-a-kind structure. Built on submerged rock, it looks like it has been misplaced from an upscale neighborhood. It’s built of red brick with white trim. The lantern rises from the center of the roof like a cupola. Automated by United States Coast Guard in 1984. Reported to be haunted by "Ernie," the spirit of keeper John "Ernie" Randolph whose wife in the 1930’s ran off with the captain of the Block Island Ferry that passed by the lighthouse daily. The distraught keeper slit his throat and jumped to his death from the lantern door to the rocks below. Later keepers reported strange happenings, such as opening and closing the heavy entrance door, swabbing the decks and turning the fog signal and light on and off. (See Bibliography: DeWire p. 230-233)

Coast Guard crews lived at the lighthouse from 1939 until its deactivation in 1987. They spent much of their time fishing, working out in the small gym in the lighthouse, and watching girls on the beach through binoculars (See Bibliography: DeWire). On the last day before automation, a Guardsman entered in the log: "Rock of slow torture. Ernie’s domain. Hell on earth -- may New London Ledge’s light shine on forever because I’m through. I will watch it from afar while drinking a brew."

Assateague Island Light, Assategaue Island, Viriginia -- 1833 and 1867

The first tower was built to warn ships away from the dangerous shoals that extend from the Maryland and Virginia coasts like knife blades; however the first light was too weak to be effective. In the late 1850’s the Lighthouse Board decided to rebuild the Assateague Light Tower as part of its efforts to improve lighthouses all along the southern coasts. However, the Civil War interrupted these efforts so the new tower wasn’t ready until after the war, in l867. A first-order Fresnel lens made the light visible from nineteen miles at sea. It is now automated and still active.

This lighthouse looks something like a candy cane without the curving top.

The Wildife Refuge provides an isolation that doesn’t exist at many lights that are surrounded by development. The lighthouse sits in the middle of the refuge.

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Ida Lewis and Lime Rock Light, Newport, Rhode Island

This daughter of a lighthouse keeper (her full name was Idawalley Zorada Lewis) was a national heroine by age 27, for her multiple daring rescues. She was on the cover of Harper’s Magazine in 1869 -- the only lighthouse keeper to ever receive this recognition.

Visited by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869, who, upon arriving, missed Lime Rock and ended up ankle deep in water. He said "To see Ida Lewis, I’d get wet up to my armpits."

Daughter of Captain Hosea Lewis, who received the keeper’s position after he got sick and had to leave the army. Shortly after his arrival he had a stroke, so Ida and her mother assumed all the lighthouse responsibilities. She also had to row her brother and sister to school and back each day in Newport, in all kinds of weather.

Over the years, she rescued at least eighteen persons from the cold and often treacherous waters off Lime Rock. Unofficially the number ran into the dozens:

  • -- When she was 16, she rescued four young men in a sailboat -- from her station lifeboat. They were ashamed to be rescued by a young girl.
  • -- In 1866 when she was 24, she rescued a drunken soldier who had stolen the family boat -- by towing him to shore.
  • -- In 1867, she saved three laborers who had allowed their employer’s prize sheep to fall into the harbor, and then saved the sheep.
  • -- On March 12, 1869, she had her most famous rescue. She was sick with a terrible cold. She saw a boat overturn, and ran out into the water in her stocking feet and rowed a boat out to save them. She rescued three soldiers; a young boy drowned. Received fan mail from the Astors, the Belmonts, the Vanderbilts, etc. and received quite a few marriage proposals.

Tended the light more than 50 years. When she died in 1911, the bells of vessels in Newport tolled all night.

Lime Rock Lighthouse was built in 1853 on Lime Rock, located about 200 yards offshore. The Light Station was acquired by a private yacht club in 1928. Since then The Ida Lewis Yacht Club has expanded the original keeper’s dwelling and the small tower, and provided access via a long boardwalk -- it barely resembles its original form. The Lime Rock beacon remains lighted as a private aid in tribute to Ida Lewis.


Egg Rock Lighthouse, Massachusetts, circa 1850

Elinor De Wire tells the story of a keeper who brought his bride home to this lighthouse one mile offshore. She was petite and fragile and not suited to the harsh winter conditions. Surrounded on all sides by the sea, and on high ground, the lighthouse received the fury of the rain and wind and damp and cold. She soon became ill and languished. Although just a mile off shore, they couldn’t get to the mainland because of the stormy seas. She got worse and worse, while the keeper cared for her. Then, early in December, she died but he had no place to bury her or way to bring her ashore. He dressed her in her best clothes and made a primitive coffin and left her in the ice house till the first break in the weather the following March. He immediately took her on a choppy bumpy trip back to the mainland. Greeted by curious onlookers, he quickly explained the situation and they helped arrange a speedy funeral. After the funeral, he accepted a dinner invitation from a friend, who had an "available" widowed sister, who also came by. By late afternoon, they were married and back on their way to the lighthouse. So, in one day he buried one wife and married another.


Kate Walker and Robbins Reef Light, New York Harbor, NY

Kate Walker had fallen in love with Jacob Walker while he was keeper at Sandy Hook Lighthouse. She had imagined her life as the wife of a keeper would be in an idyllic setting such as at Sandy Hook. She was miserable when her husband led her to their new post at Robbins Reef in the 1870s, a squat little light in New York Harbor, between Staten Island and Brooklyn. At first she refused to unpack her bags, but she eventually conceded to stay. Her chores included rowing her children to Staten Island each weekday to school. These trips honed her boat-handling skills, and she later saved many lives. When Jacob Walker died in 1886, his last words to her were "Mind the light, Kate." She applied for the keeper’s job, and within a year, she was appointed and remained in the job 35 years. Many doubted that this woman under 5’ tall and less than 100 pounds could manage the equipment and the chores. But during the 35 years, she was credited with more than 50 rescues. (See Bibliography: DeWire p. 192-194)

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