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ake Winnipesaukee can deceive you at times. For a body of water billed as New Hampshire’s largest lake — and a glance at the map will confirm that it is, no doubt — the lake can feel much smaller than those maps suggest. Especially to the north, the many islands and peninsulas make you feel as if the mainland is never too far away. And if you trace the lake’s outer edges, you’ll encounter a few no-wake zones around the busy town harbors and choke points between the shore and the islands.
As you motor through one of these in particular, headed north from Meredith toward Center Harbor, you’ll notice a little outpost in the channel. It’s notably different from the homes and camps that occupy the shores of Bear Island; a long and wide dock fronts the water along the no-wake zone, with a tiny green-trimmed building flying an American flag built right at the water’s edge. A sign at the roof’s edge reads: “Bear Island Post Office.”
New Hampshire’s largest lake is the home of the United States’ original and oldest floating post office.
Docked at Weirs Beach, is the M/V Sophie C., the oldest, and one of only two currently operating floating United States Postal Service post offices. Floating post office service was started on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1892, and currently delivers mail daily to eight of the lake’s islands between June and September. The Sophie C is operated by Mount Washington Cruises and offers a two-hour mailboat cruise for $32 per person; which departs at 11:00AM from Weirs Beach. Purchase tickets by visiting cruisenh.com.
The Sophie C. was built by Boston General Ship & Engine Works in 1945 to temporarily replace the Mount Washington, whose engines and boilers had been commandeered by the Navy during World War II, and she took over the mail route from the Uncle Sam II in 1969.
The mail season for the Sophie C. is rather short, from mid-June through the first or second week of September. For those who have homes on the islands, it’s just about right, as the seasonal properties begin closing up for the winter not long after Labor Day. The short season also means the Sophie C. never has to contend with ice.
In many ways, the Sophie C.’s service to the islands around the lake seems like a quaint reminder of the past. In a world of online payments and emails, daily mail service to an island seems like overkill. But how else do you get the Laconia Daily Sun to the islands? How else do you get the occasional package? If you have the benefit of a summer getaway on an island, why would you want to go through the trouble of heading back to shore and driving downtown when the post office can come to you instead?
But the Sophie C. is about more than mail delivery. In fact, there’s so much the boat delivers — waves from cruise passengers, news from the shore, a treat for some kids on the dock, a social opportunity for those who aren’t merely visiting the island for a couple days — that can’t be stamped and stuffed in a mailbox. For those who live on the lake during the summer, the Sophie C. delivers a little piece of what’s going on back home, with residents never having to leave the dock to find out. And that’s quite a luxury to imagine, especially for those of us who can never completely escape the always-on, always-connected world of today.
Compiled from a variety of sources, including Jeff Brown, a lifelong New Hampshire resident who has blogged about the Sophie C on stayworkplay.org.
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