By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — The EKAL Activity Center, which opened its doors in 2012 next to Church Landing, offers visitors to the Lakes Region a variety of ways to enjoy Lake Winnipesaukee in the summertime, from stand-up paddle boards to canoes and kayaks, an Aqua Cycle, as well as charter boat rides in a 26-foot pontoon boat which holds up to 10 passengers.
Founded by Scott Crowder, organizer of the New England Pond Hockey Classic, which has brought thousands of hockey players from all over the Northeast to Meredith in recent winters, the activity center is offering something new this year, antique boat rides on a 28-foot 1931 triple cockpit Chris Craft runabout "Miss Meredith."
"We wanted to being back the thrill of boat rides like those offered by the Miss Winnipesaukee boats at Weirs Beach back to the lake," said Crowder.
The antique speedboat departs hourly from the docks at the center, which is located between Church Landing and the Town Docks Restaurant on Meredith Bay, for 45-minute rides around the lake, bringing back the age old thrills of a riding in a powerful boat around the lake and taking in the scenic beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee.
The impeccably restored Chris Craft has an exciting history of its own, having once been owned by Madame Chiang Kai-shek and her relatives when they spent time in the 1950s at a place known as Spruce Acres on Wolfeboro Neck. That was after the Chinese Communists, led by Mao Zedong, defeated the Nationalist Chinese in 1949.
Madame Chiang, the wife of Nationalist Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek, was at one time one of the most powerful women in the world, having been featured along with her husband as Time Magazine's "Man and Woman of the Year" in 1938. She was born in 1898 and lived to 105 when she died in 2003.
She was the the youngest daughter of an American-educated Methodist minister, Charlie Song, who made a fortune in banking and printing and sent all six of his children, three daughters and three sons, to be educated in America.
Soong Mei-Ling, as she was originally known, had actually attended a summer camp and school in Meredith around 1912, which was located just across Meredith Bay from the place where Miss Meredith is now docked. Another sister, Ching-ling also attended the same school with her.
The school was run by Harriet Moses, better known as "Aunt Hattie Moses", and was established on Meredith Bay in 1905.
The school for girls was located on Pleasant Street between what is now Meredith Mooring Condominiums and property stretching up the hill across from Gould Street according to an article written by Dean Dexter, former Belknap County Commissioner, which appeared in the Union Leader in November of 2003.
Speaking at a 1962 meeting of the Meredith Historical Society, Joseph Smith, who later became a prominent lumber dealer and owner of the Wicwas Lodge at Meredith Center, said he had taken a job at Fred Beede's store on Meredith's Main Street and delivered groceries by horse and wagon to customers around town.
Smith said he would often give rides on the delivery wagon to girls enrolled at the school as they walked to and from the village. Mei-Ling and her sister were among them. They were very pretty and quite a curiosity for a sleepy little village like Meredith at the turn of the century, he said.
The article says "Joe, with his brother Frederick Smith, longtime headmaster of New Hampton School, and their wives were at a movie in Laconia , when, during the Pathe newsreel a clip was shown featuring China's President Chiang Kai-shek and his beautiful young wife.
"Hey, that's Mei-Ling," Fred said, elbowing Joe in the next seat.
"By gory. I can't believe it. How could you forget her?" Joe said.
So those who choose to take a ride on the Miss Meredith will not only be getting a nice ride around the lake, they will also be taking that ride in a classic wooden runabout which has long-standing ties to the history of Lake Winnipesaukee.
Scott Crowder stands next to Miss Meredith, a 28-foot 1931 triple cockpit Chris Craft runabout, which provides rides on Lake Winnipesaukee from the EKAL activity center in Meredith Bay. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Stand-up paddlebaords are popular at the EKAL activity center in Meredith Bay, where lessons are provided for beginners. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)