Photo by John Caracoglia
pictured Jeff Bell
Photo by John Caracoglia
Photo by John Caracoglia
About Lake Mattamuskeet
Lake Mattamuskeet is the largest natural lake in North Carolina. The lake is a wetlands depression that fills with rain water and the natural runoff from the land around it. There are no underground springs or headwaters feeding into the huge lake. The lake bed is three to five feet below sea level.
Interest in draining Lake Mattamuskeet for farming purposes dates back to the 1700’s. In 1773, the Provincial Congress passed a bill to cut a large canal from Lake Mattamuskeet to the Pamlico Sound to drain the lake. At that time, the lake was from six to nine feet deep and covered 120,000 acres. Governor Martin vetoed the bill.
After the American Revolution, in 1789, Governor Samuel Johnson appointed a drainage board for the purpose of draining the wet lands of Hyde County (including Lake Mattamuskeet) to make them suitable for farming. Disputes over right-of-ways for the drainage canals prevented this board from accomplishing its assigned task.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the State of North Carolina owned most of Lake Mattamuskeet. In 1825, the North Carolina Legislature vested title to Lake Mattamuskeet to the State Literary Board of North Carolina with the authority to improve the lands and sell them to support the cause of public education.
In 1837 the Literary Board completed the excavation of a seven-mile canal, forty feet wide and eight feet deep, from the lake to the Pamlico Sound at Wysocking Bay, using slave labor from Hyde County’s plantations. The water above sea level flowed by gravity through this canal into the sound, reducing the size of the lake from 120,000 to 55,000 acres. The bed of Lake Mattamuskeet has long been regarded as some of the richest soil in the world, having received nutrients from thousands of surrounding acres that have drained naturally into it for years. By the beginning of the 20th century, farmers had been farming the rich land adjacent to the lake without fertilizer for more than 200 years with record yields. Hyde County received an average of 60 inches of rainfall each year. To take advantage of the rich soil, landowners had to devise ways to drain the land and prevent flooding of their crops.
The lake has been completely drained three times, drained and farmed twice.
About Mattamuskeet Lodge
Mattamuskeet Lodge is a three-story steel-framed brick and wood structure, consisting of approximately 15,000 square feet, situated on the south shore of Lake Mattamuskeet, North Carolina’s largest natural lake. The lake is near the geographic center of Hyde County, North Carolina, a coastal county on the north shore of the Pamlico Sound.
The original building was known simply as the “Pumping Station.” It was built in 1915-1916 by the Mattamuskeet Drainage District and when completed, was the largest capacity pumping plant in the world. The plant had eight cross-compound centrifugal pumps, each with two 48-inch diameter impellers. The four 850-horsepower engines that drove the huge pumps were powered by coal-fired steam boilers. When the plant was operating at full capacity, it consumed 30-40 tons of coal during each 24-hour period. Between 1916 and 1932, the pumping plant removed the water from 50,000-acre Lake Mattamuskeet three times. The last time, the pumps kept the lake drained for six years.
In 1917, Douglas Nelson Graves, Chairman of the Mattamuskeet Drainage Commissioners, described the pumping plant at Lake Mattamuskeet as having “eight sixty-inch centrifugal pumps, any one or all of which may be put into operation at once.” Graves stated “the water pumped by this plant in twenty-four hours would make a lake a mile long, a half-mile wide, and thirteen feet deep.” The design of the building and the pumps fascinated engineers from around the world. In 1917, Engineering News described the project at Lake Mattamuskeet as a milestone in drainage engineering. This highly respected academic journal described the Mattamuskeet project as “the greatest drainage reclamation project and the greatest drainage pumping station” built to that point in history.
In 1934, the United States Government bought Lake Mattamuskeet and created Mattamuskeet Migratory Bird Refuge. The purchase included all physical structures and improvements on the land, including the Pumping Station. The Mattamuskeet Drainage District ceased to exist and the lake soon refilled. Between 1935 and 1937, the government converted the Pumping Station into a hunting lodge and headquarters building for the new refuge. The transformed building opened to the public in November 1937 and operated as “Mattamuskeet Lodge” until 1974.
Between 1937 and 1974, sports writers often described Mattamuskeet Lodge as the premier hunting lodge in the Atlantic Flyway of America and dubbed Lake Mattamuskeet the “Canada Goose Hunting Capital of the World.”
In 1974, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed Mattamuskeet Lodge to public use, and the building deteriorated with no annual maintenance until 1991, when a local grassroots group calling themselves “The Friends of Mattamuskeet Lodge Committee” organized a community effort to repair and preserve the historic structure.
The building has several large gathering rooms and nineteen lodging rooms. As used in recent years, there is an environmental exhibit area, a gift shop, and office for a “Lodge Coordinator” who has scheduled the public use of the building and provided tours for visitors. Another unusual feature of the transformation from pumping station to hunting lodge was to convert the 125-foot smoke stack that had served the coal-burning furnaces for the steam engines into an 112-foot observation tower, complete with a spiral staircase leading to an observation platform at the top. The spectacular view from the top of the tower allows visitors to see the entire seven-mile width of the lake, and about half of its 18-mile length.?
In November 2000, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed Mattamuskeet Lodge to the public due to the continued deterioration of the structural steel that bears the weight of the building. Mattamuskeet Lodge is a monument to (1) our nation’s most famous land reclamation project of the first quarter of the twentieth century, (2) contributions made by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and (3) the rich history of hunting Canada Geese and other migratory birds in the Atlantic Flyway.
Mattamuskeet Lodge is not just a relic of the past for interpreting Lake Mattamuskeet history. It is the embodiment of several generations of American dreams, spanning several distinct periods of history, each with enough uniqueness to warrant bold efforts to save this building from destruction.
While Mattamuskeet Lodge resides on Government property inside a National Wildlife Refuge In 2006, the United States Congress deeded the Lodge to the state of North Carolina. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the Department of Cultural Resources have been working to renovate the building, which previously had been declared unsuitable for occupancy. were expected to take 3 years and open to the public in 2010. Due to funding cuts renovations have not been completed and the lodge remains closed to the public.
•Data Source - The Mattamuskeet Foundation, Inc. - mattamuskeet.org
•Data Source - Mattamuskeet Lodge - mattamuskeetlodge.com