Digest>Archives> December 1995

North Carolina's 'other lighthouse'


Shown here is a tower on Lake Mattamuskeet in North Carolina which is the state's largest natural lake covering 40,000 acres.

The lake is significantly smaller in size from the 50,000-60,000 acres it once was. At the turn of the century an ambitious scheme was conceived to drain the lake. In 1911, the Southern Land Reclamation Company purchased 48,820 acres from the State of North Carolina and began implementing these plans. A giant pumping station and an extensive network of large canals and smaller ditches through and around the Lake were constructed to form a drainage district of over 100,000 acres. The pumping station was the largest in the world at the time with four steam-powered pumps capable of moving 1,250,000 gallons of water per minute.

The pumping operation was not successful for the first owner, who declared bankruptcy. In 1918, North Carolina Farms Company purchased most of the operation and made considerable improvements, including the construction of a railroad operation from Wenona to New Holland. By 1923, having only placed 1,000 acres of the lake in production and exhausting investment funds, the second owner declared bankruptcy. In 1925, a third owner, August Heckscher, purchased the operation and formed the New Holland Corporation. The ownership began draining the lake for a third time, and by 1931 had placed 12,000 acres of the lakebed in production of corn, flax, sunflowers, rice, sweet potatoes and soybeans. Wet weather, insects, and depressed farm commodity prices all combined to shut the operation down in the fall of 1932.

In 1934 the New Holland Corporation sold their holdings (49,925 acres) to the United States Government and the Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge was established by Executive Order of the President of the United States. Company 424 of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) with 200 enrollees was located at New Holland and went about the task of converting the former large farming operation to a wildlife refuge for migratory birds.

One of the major projects the CCC accomplished was assisting with converting the former pumping station into a rustic hunting and fishing lodge. The Mattamuskeet Lodge was operated under a concession contract from 1937 to 1974. Since 1974, the building has received limited use and attention. In 1980, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance as a pumping station. Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge is now a major wintering and migration area for many types of migratory birds including Canadian geese, tundra swans and approximately twenty duck species.

The area is open to the public. For more information on hours and times when you can visit, call or write to the Greater Hyde County Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 178, Swan Quarter, North Carolina 27885.The historic pumping station and lighthouse at Lake Mattamuskeet, North Carolina.

This story appeared in the December 1995 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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