The Uncle Sam mail boat delivered mail to Lake Winnipesaukee islands from 1906 through 1961. A 1916 act of Congress designated it as the only floating post office in the country. (Courtesy photo)
Sophie C carries on Lake Winnipesaukee’s 125-year mailboat tradition
By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The Sophie C is the oldest floating post office in the United States and continues a Lake Winnipesaukee tradition that dates back to 1892.
Sophie's daily mail runs take her to nine islands where mail is delivered to the island residents and summer camps. In addition to being a full-service post office, where these residents may purchase postal supplies and stamps, the ship also has a collection of ice cream novelty treats and snacks for sale. A daily ice cream bar or popsicle has become quite a summer tradition for many island dwellers.
Mail clerk Anne Nix, who has fond memories of the vessel from her days growing up on Bear Island, busies herself with sorting the letters and packages into the gray canvas mail sacks destined for delivery to the summer residents of the islands.
“I like this job. It's a lot of fun,” says Nix, who recalls hiking through the woods on the island when she was young to greet the Sophie C when it reached the Bear Island dock, where a small building that was formerly the island's post office now serves as a library.
The Sophie C delivers about 35,000 pieces of mail each season and also accepts outgoing mail, which is postmarked right on the boat. Passengers are invited to fill out Sophie C postcards and mail them right on board to get the unique mailboat cancellation.
Business will pick up next week when the two biggest mail destinations on its run, Camp Lawrence and Camp Nokomis, both on Bear Island, open for the season with hundreds of letters and packages being delivered each day.
The Sophie C makes twice daily runs from Weirs Beach Monday through Saturday from June 15 to Sept. 9 this year. The morning mail stops are at Loon Island, home to just one family; Bear Island, 3 Mile Island and East Bear Island, where the dock is so small that the boat can't dock and mail is picked up and delivered on a pole protruding from the dock.
The afternoon mail stops are at Camp Lawrence, Birch Island, Sandy Island, Cow Island and Jolly Island.
Mail delivery to the islands of Lake Winnipesaukee began in 1892 when Rural Free Delivery Route #7 was set up under contract to Dr. George Saltmarsh with the steam vessel Robert & Arthur serving as the first mailboat.
The steamer was replaced in 1894 by the graceful Dolphin, which in turn was replaced by the Uncle Sam in 1906, which was in service on the lake as the mailboat for 53 years. The 65-foot-long, 14-foot beam boat carried 100 passengers and was made famous by a 1916 Act of Congress, which designated it as the only floating-post office inn the country. For the years 1932-33 the Marshall Foch, Captain Leander Lavallee's private vessel, took the honors, but it was displaced in '34 by the Uncle Sam I, which ran uninterrupted until the end of the 1961 season.
In 1962 the Uncle Sam II, a 72 foot converted PT-Boat, was brought in by rail by owners Allan Perley and Vern Cotton, but proved costly to operate and ended its run in 1968.
The Sophie C took over in 1969 and is now in its 48th season. It's first postmaster was Ed Lavalee, who for many years ran the Uncle Sam mailboat.
Only one other mail route exists officially on the lake, one which started about 1910 under Capt. Oscar York in the Columbia out of Wolfeboro, with the Wolfeboro postmark. The route today is run by the Gray Ghost.
Another mailboat on the lake, was the Tonimar, which was owned by Captain Lawrence P. Beck of Alton Bay and delivered mail to the Alton Bay-Alton-Wolfeboro area starting in 1929. It operated from mid-June to mid-September and made about 40 stops at summer camps, cottages and islands.
Mail clerk Anne Nix on board the Sophie C, which started delivering mail to Winnipesaukee islands in 1969. (Courtesy photo)
- Written by Roger Amsden
- Category: Local News
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