May 2020

It’s an enigma for those who first see and hear about it. The old pumping station at Lake Mattamuskeet, whose original purpose was to drain the shallow 40,000-acre lake for farming, stands idly by – a sentinel keeping watch over North Carolina’s largest natural lake.
Early in the 20th century, ambitious entrepreneurs envisioned draining Lake Mattamuskeet and turning it into farmland. Inspired by successful Dutch drainage projects in the mid-19th century, the project was a giant collaboration between public managers of the Mattamuskeet Drainage District, private owners of the lake, and private land-owners around the lake (1909-1934).
During America’s Gilded Age (roughly 1870-1900), the country experienced impressive economic expansion, including growth in agricultural technology. It was the age of big ideas. The Panama Canal opened in 1914. The country had been united by the railroads. Industrialists in the northeast were looking for ways to grow their wealth and were open to new, bold ideas.
One of those big ideas found a home in Hyde County.
The soil on the Albermarle-Pamlico peninsula has been compared to the rich earth of the Mississippi and Nile deltas. According to historian Lewis C. Forrest, “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.”
However, the idea to drain the lake dates back to the colonial era. Royal Governor Martin vetoed a 1773 bill, passed by the Provincial Congress to drain the 110,000-acre lake. It was not until 1911 that a three-member board of commissioners, established by legislation in 1909, actually began planning how they would accomplish this feat.
The project began with the digging of canals. Huge cranes were shipped via rail to Belhaven, where they were assembled and transported by water to do the dredging work to allow the canals to drain the lake, carrying the water 7 miles south into the Pamlico Sound. The largest of these became known as Outfall Canal. Attracting attention from engineers across America, Morris Machine Works of Baldwinsville, New York’s proposal was selected to build a plant that would move the water out of the lake. The construction of the world’s largest pumping station must have really been a sight to behold in Hyde County.
From those early beginnings until 1934, private ownership of the lake changed hands three times before succumbing to the reality that it was impossible to cost-effectively maintain a dry lake bed. Admitting failure, the land was sold to the U.S. government. On December 18, 1934, the U.S. government declared the property the “Mattamuskeet Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.”
The next phase of the pumping station’s history includes the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Great Depression program established to put unemployed single young men to work on conservation and resource development projects. Reminiscent of other beautiful hotels built in many of our National Parks, such as Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge and Phantom Ranch at the base of the Grand Canyon, the CCC removed all the pumping plant equipment and renovated the building into a hunting lodge.

The Mattamuskeet Lodge welcomed governors, senators, congressmen, lawyers, doctors, and the wealthy for 37 years, earning the reputation as one of the most beloved hunting lodges in the country. Rachel Carson was a guest at the lodge while writing for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those who remember the lodge recall mounted animal heads gracing the walls and large fireplaces that added to the atmosphere of the place. It ceased operation as a hotel in 1974 as the migratory patterns of Canada geese changed.
In 2006, the U.S. Congress gave North Carolina a grand and historic gift, deeding the Mattamuskeet Lodge, a nearly 75-year-old building treasured by hunters, birdwatchers and historians, to the state. The state was charged to restore and maintain the building and “use(d) the property as a public facility dedicated to the conservation of the natural and cultural resources of North Carolina.” Since that time, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the Department of Cultural Resources have been working on renovating the building, which previously had been declared unsuitable for occupancy.

Placed on the National Historic Register in 1980, today Mattamuskeet Lodge stands watch over the beautiful 40,000-acre shallow lake that is home to more than 800 species of wildlife, including 240 bird species – such as snow geese, Canada geese, Northern pintails (ducks), and great blue herons. The lake’s most famous birds are the tundra swans that call the lake home from November through March before returning to their home in the Arctic.
From December 11-13, 2020, visit NC concierge will offer “An Inner Banks Christmas,” a unique travel experience to eastern North Carolina that will include an in-depth exploration of the Lake Mattamuskeet Wildlife Refuge and lodge. Won't you join us? Book your trip today!

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Native North Carolinian and nationally acclaimed broadcast journalist Charles Kuralt brought many out-of-the-way places into American living rooms on his innovative show “On the Road.” He closed “Sunday Morning” each week with a short video segment of the magnificent natural wonders of our country. Many of those segments were filmed in National Wildlife Refuges. Kuralt was recognized posthumously by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services with a distinguished Citizen’s Award in 1997 for his contributions.

The Charles Kuralt Trail was established to acknowledge the broadcast journalist’s passion for nature and out-of-the-way places and to help people enjoy these wild, natural habitats. Eleven national wildlife refuges and a fish hatchery comprise The Charles Kuralt Trail in a region known as the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, and Cape Fear Ecosystem – named for the rivers that flow into North Carolina’s Albermarle, Currituck, and Pamlico Sounds. Click here to learn more about the special opportunity to experience nature along the Charles Kuralt Trail.

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