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. Morris Machine Works of Baldwinsville, NY and Charlotte, NC, was the contractor for the original building and pumps. 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 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. Company 424 of the Civilian Conservation Corps did much of the conversion work, with 17 to 23 year old “CCC boys” working side by side with civilian contractors. 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.” Guests who stayed at Mattamuskeet Lodge and hunted on the refuge came from the United States, Canada, and Europe, and included many notable dignitaries.
Names have changed over the years, and today, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Department of the Interior, is the government agency that manages Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge and Mattamuskeet Lodge. 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 Partnership for the Sounds and East Carolina University, each initiated cooperative agreements with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service that define their respective use of the building. The Friends Committee has now received its own non-profit status, and is no longer under the Chamber of Commerce. The Mattamuskeet Foundation, formed in 1995, is working to preserve and publish the history of the lake, and recover artifacts from the lake drainage era.
In 1995, Mattamuskeet Lodge re-opened its doors as an environmental education facility and community center. Following the re-opening, thousands of national and international visitors toured the historic structure and it has been the site of scores of meetings and events. Of greatest importance, Mattamuskeet Lodge once again became a proud and vibrant symbol of Hyde County's heritage and its future.
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 remains the property of the United States Government as part of the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. Because the primary mission of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the protection of wildlife rather than historic preservation, the regular operating budget of Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge has not included funds for maintaining and renovating Mattamuskeet Lodge.
Mattamuskeet Lodge must be preserved for its architectural uniqueness, history of use, the embodiment of the region’s character, and its inseparable connection to the history of Lake Mattamuskeet. However, 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:
1916-1934 ~ Served as world’s largest pumping station
1935-1942 ~ Civilian Conservation Corps Era
1937-1974 ~ Premiere hunting lodge and headquarters for Mattamuskeet Migratory Bird Refuge
1974-1989 ~ Period of non-use; building deteriorated
1989-1995 ~ Local community groups began grassroots efforts to save Mattamuskeet Lodge
1995-2000 ~ Mattamuskeet Lodge reopens and thrives
November 2000 ~ Mattamuskeet Lodge closed to public use and in danger of being lost as an American treasure
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed Mattamuskeet Lodge to public access in November of 2000 acting on engineering advice that long-term corrosion of load-bearing steel beams had compromised the building’s structural integrity to render the building unsafe for use. The corrosion is especially evident in columns at the north and south building lines. In addition, the engineers found the masonry in several areas fractured and unstable. The engineers recommended that the building be entered solely for maintenance or repairs and that temporary bracing be set to shore up badly damaged areas.
The most serious problems found are in two large meeting areas––the ballroom and lobby. The steel beams that support those floors rest on steel columns below. The columns are built up sections of steel webs and angle flanges. There is severe corrosion damage to the steel columns at the north and south exterior wall lines. Corrosion has almost entirely consumed the flanged angles of some columns, as well as the rivets that connect the flanged angles to the web plates.
An analysis of the building’s masonry confirmed that, as had long been suspected, salt-rich beach sand was used in making the original mortar. The most accessible source of white sand in the area is the islands in the Pamlico Sound, seven miles south of the Pumping Station. Elderly residents remember their fathers hauling sand in small boats from the islands to New Holland for construction use. It is conceivable that roof leaks during the years when Mattamuskeet Lodge was closed (1974-1995) may have allowed moisture to get to the mortar and induce the corrosion process.
While not a deciding factor in the closure of the building, the engineers have also detected problems in the attached observation tower (old smokestack). Morris Machine Works, the Pumping Station contractor, built the smokestack from concrete and reinforced steel. It rests on a concrete foundation supported by 59 wooden pilings. When the CCC boys converted it to an observation tower in the 1930s, they removed the brick liner and installed steel spiral steps and two observation decks. Then they painted the inside and outside of the tower.
There has been movement observed in the observation tower during high winds. With wind velocity at 20 mph, this movement is only detected within the tower. At higher wind velocity, 50 mph or higher, the stress from tower movement can be readily felt on the south wall of Mattamuskeet Lodge. Stresses on the wall have contributed to cracking of brick masonry around the steel support columns. It is not known if the movement that has been detected is normal and to be expected or if the foundation pilings have deteriorated and the tower and foundation might be moving on the pilings. If the pilings have deteriorated, the tower will need a new support system to stabilize the movement. If the movement is normal and the pilings are still sound, the connection between the tower and Mattamuskeet Lodge must be redesigned to allow each to move independent of the other during wind events. In either event, a study by structural engineers with specialized equipment will be necessary.
It is an understatement to say that Mattamuskeet Lodge is an important landmark to virtually everyone in Hyde County, as well as a significant percentage of the population of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. Mattamuskeet Lodge holds so many memories and so much promise that its loss is widespread. Given the thousands of people who stayed at Mattamuskeet Lodge years ago or who have visited in more recent times, knowledge of its permanent loss would be a devastating blow to the morale of the region, and a major setback for the emerging heritage tourism industry in northeastern North Carolina.
For more information, visit the following websites: www.partnershipforthesounds.org and www.mattamuskeet.org