Ida Lewis, 77, `Hat Lady' who owned millinery shop

January 17, 1999|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Ida M. Lewis, known for years in the Baltimore area as "The Hat Lady" for the unique, creative and stylish hats she made, died Monday of a massive stroke at Heritage Center in Dundalk. She was 77.

For nearly a decade, the Dundalk resident operated American Trimming House, a millinery shop in the 200 block of Mulberry St. downtown. There, she designed and made head wear of varied shapes and sizes.

"She was so creative," said her daughter, Stephenia "Tammy" Lewis of Dundalk. "People would come in [to the store] and say, `I want something that you've never seen before.' She'd say OK and sleep on it and then get up at 2 in the morning and make something special."

Mrs. Lewis began making hats in the early 1960s, after taking an adult correspondence course in hat-making. She made numerous styles of hats and sold them door-to-door, at churches and beauty shops, and to strangers on the street.

Virginia Wells, who owned a nearby shop on Mulberry Street, said Mrs. Lewis had a lot of drive to go with her millinery talent.

"She didn't need to push her hats as much as she did because they were always quality hats that could sell themselves," Ms. Wells said. "But she had a lot of energy and was a successful businesswoman."

Mrs. Lewis' hats were in demand among prominent Marylanders and theatrical groups. Costumers often referred to her.

She operated American Trimming House from 1981 to 1990, then sold hats from her home until recent years, relatives said. At home, she often made 14 hats a day, then delivered many of them.

She made a hat for Gov. William Donald Schaefer in the 1980s, a black velvet Napoleon-style hat trimmed in gold. She wasn't sure when or how often the governor wore it.

"She was just the best at what she did," her daughter said. "She was a very hard-working person."

The former Ida Barnes was born and attended school in Lumberton, N.C. In 1942, she married Alton W. Lewis, a steel worker. They moved to Baltimore in 1943 and to Dundalk in 1949. Mr. Lewis died in 1992.

After years as a domestic worker and as a cook at Karson's Restaurant in Dundalk, Mrs. Lewis fulfilled a life's dream when she opened her millinery business on West Mulberry Street.

"In a very short time, the business was known to many people and was very successful," said Michael Holmes, who owned a nearby clothing store. "She maintained quite a business. She found her niche and ran with it."

A deeply religious woman, Mrs. Lewis was an active member throughout her adult life of Galilee Baptist Church in Dundalk, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Baltimore and Shiloh Baptist Church in Edgemere.

Services were held yesterday at Shiloh Baptist Church.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Lewis is survived by a son, Alton W. "Spike" Lewis Jr. of Severn; a brother, Bennie McArthur of Rowland, N.C.; a sister, Stella Robeson of Jersey City, N.J.; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Pub Date: 1/17/99

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