Getting letters on the lakes


 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


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
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Education Town Hall IDs problems, but solutions remain elusive

LACONIA — A town hall forum at Lakes Region Community College on Thursday focused on educational challenges such as funding full-day kindergarten and why it is difficult to solve such problems.
Sponsored by Reaching Higher NH, a nonprofit public policy resource agency, the forum provided an update on legislation affecting education and the roles of the state Board of Education and the Department of Education in setting and reviewing policies governing local school districts.
Moderator Dan Vallone, director of engagement at Reaching Higher NH, was joined by panelists Linda Tanner, D-Sunapee, who serves on the House Education Committee, and Aaron Hayward, a member of the Laconia School Board.
Vallone reviewed the legislative bills that were considered this session, including those decided earlier that day, such as the passage of a bill providing additional funding for full-day kindergarten.
Tanner said she had been on the fence right up to the vote because of the Committee of Conference decision to link Keno to the bill. Her committee had supported full funding for all-day kindergarten, as Gov. Sununu had proposed, but the Senate reduced the funding because of concerns about the cost. The use of Keno proceeds to provide that funding is in line with the state’s reliance on lottery income to fund education, but Tanner said she ultimately voted against the bill.
Vouchers and school choice remain hot topics, with the legislature supporting a school board’s right to tuition students to private, non-sectarian schools if the district does not have its own buildings. Vouchers and education savings accounts proved to be more difficult to decide.
“We had an excellent discussion,” Tanner said, but the discussion needs to continue to address critical issues. “When funds are squeezed from all directions, and the state is downshifting costs to local people, we have to be careful about moving money around.”
Hayward said it is incumbent upon school districts to take care of all the students, but with slow economic growth, declining enrollments, and reduced state funding, schools are losing teachers and cutting programs.
“It’s a struggle to create a budget that satisfies everyone, and the ones who pay the price are the kids,” Hayward said.
When a member in the audience suggested that the state was not living up to its obligations, Hayward took exception.
“In our discussions to support what’s necessary, the idea of labeling and saying the state’s abandoning its responsibilities, when there are only so many dollars in the state, we need to keep focused and decide on priorities. It has to be a productive discussion.”
He said school districts need long-term continuity and praised Laconia’s five-year teacher contract. “It gives us cost certainty for the biggest part of our budget, which allows us to address other things,” he said.
Discussing a new report by the NH Center for Public Policy Studies that showed the property-poor school districts that sued the state 20 years ago are in worse shape today, Tanner said the state’s adequacy aid has not kept up with inflation and, with declining enrollments, needy districts are seeing further reductions in aid. The newly passed state budget continues a 4 percent annual reduction in adequacy aid to school districts.
“Today we voted for another tax cut for businesses, which fund a big portion of the budget,” Tanner said. “We need to have 10 percent economic growth annually to cover that tax cut.”
She went on to say the state has many ways to raise money, while “Laconia can only use property taxes.”
A back-and-forth discussion with members of the audience highlighted the different perspectives residents have, with one speaker suggesting the state should look at what is working in other states. Another suggested that county funding of schools would be a way to lower the costs for taxpayers.
Vallone noted that, despite the funding issues, New Hampshire students consistently score among the top three states in the nation on assessment tests. “We have a great system,” he said. “The question is how to sustain that.”
Rep. David Huot commented, “Long-range planning in New Hampshire consists of two years, so if you go out longer, there is a turnover of decision-makers,” a reference to the short terms of elected officials. “Somebody’s got to start from the beginning and see if there’s a better way to organize government.”
The discussion turned to how public education could serve students without strong academic skills and Vallone said there has been some success with the state’s new focus on extended learning opportunities, or ELOs.
“Students have unique passions, and ELOs let them earn credit for pursuing these things,” Vallone said, noting that there is an effort to line up 200 Lakes Region businesses that want to offer opportunities for students to learn job skills.
When one speaker said schools are failing those in the lower quartile of the Bell Curve, a graph illustrating students’ abilities, Hayward challenged that notion.
“I believe every kid that comes in can succeed,” said Hayward. “We need to focus on what they can do and not pigeonhole someone on a Bell Curve.”

06 23 Ed Forum
Laconia School Board member Aaron Hayward and Rep. Linda Tanner, a member of the House Education Committee, serve as panelists during a town hall forum at Lakes Region Community College on Thursday. (Tom Caldwell/Laconia Daily Sun)

  • Written by Tom Caldwell
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Sanbornton rep will seek new vote on jail, sheriff cuts

LACONIA — Belknap County Representative Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton) said he will attempt to have the County Delegation revisit its May 22 rejection of a $229,500 supplemental appropriation when it meets Tuesday, June 27, at 7 p.m. at the Belknap County Complex.
The delegation is scheduled to meet to review applications for filling the position of Belknap County Attorney, which will become vacant when Melissa Guldbrandsen steps down on July 8 to become Laconia Circuit Court judge.
An attempt by Belknap County Commissioners to have County Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) expand the agenda for Tuesday's meeting to include a second public hearing on the supplemental appropriation received no response from Vadney, who was one of the seven who voted against the original request.
The $229,500 supplemental appropriation request lost on a 7-7 tie vote on May 22 after Vadney denied an attempt to by Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton), vice chairman of the delegation, to abstain from voting. Howard then voted against the request, creating the tie.
The supplemental appropriation request included $136,500 for the Corrections Department and $93,000 for the Sheriff’s Department. The proposal called for hiring three corrections officers on July 1 and another on Sept. 1.
Lang said he will attempt to have separate votes on both departments saying that his discussions with other members of delegation have led him to believe that it is more likely that one, or both, of the requests will be granted.
Commissioners put off crucial decisions three weeks ago on the hiring of four correctional officers that Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray deemed essential to opening the new Community Corrections Center until they received word on the fate of the supplemental appropriation.
Gray has said that without the additional officers he will not recommend opening the new 18,100-square-foot Community Corrections Center due to concerns for both the safety of the officers and the inmates.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said the commissioners were disappointed that Vadney did not respond to their request for reconsideration of the supplemental appropriation.
“It's absolutely crucial that we open the Community Corrections Center and know that it will be adequately staffed. Those who say that there's enough money in the overall budget to transfer money just don't know what they're talking about,” said DeVoy.
Opponents of the supplemental appropriation have maintained that sufficient funds are in the overall budget to allow commissioners to move funds around to meet their priorities.
Lang says that the cuts made to both departments were ill considered. He said the $93,000 cut to the Sheriff's Department was “an arbitrary cut to meet a preset budget number, with no insight or logic behind it.”
And he agrees that Superintendent Gray should not open that Community Corrections facility without increases to staffing. “It only increases the risk to officers and inmates, and also sets the program up for failure.”

  • Written by Roger Amsden
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