Lake Mattamuskeet

Written By Shane Williams

 Based on Native American folklore, Lake Mattamuskeet was created when a peat fire burned and left a space that filled with water and fish.  The lake has always been a shallow one, with rain, creeks and rivers providing incoming freshwater. English settlers discovered the Lake in 1585 during one of Sir Walter Raleigh’s surveying expeditions. Ongoing European and Native American hostility necessitated the creation of an Indian reservation, many colonists believed. In 1715 one was established for the Core, Cotechny, and Mattamuskeet Indian tribes.


During the 1800s, many advocated draining the shallow lake for its rich nutrients. In 1837, the State Literary Board owned the lake and it was drained to almost half its size. A seven-mile canal was built from the lakes south end to Wysocking Bay in Hyde County. With the lakes size decreased to 55,000 acres, more farmland was available.


In 1909, the North Carolina General Assembly created the Mattamuskeet Drainage District. Its establishment resulted in more canals. In 1911 the land was leased to the Southern Land Reclamation Company. In 1915 a large pumping station and smokestack were built, and the company changed its name to New Holland Farms. Two years later, pump design problems shutdown operations. In 1923 North Carolina Farms Company purchased the assets but quickly went insolvent. In 1925 the New Holland Corporation bought the land and four large steam engines and several drainage canals were built. This left vast land for cultivating rice wheat and soybeans.


From 1916 to 1926 the lake was drained three times. After the third, the lake stayed dry for five years. Soon after, New Holland Company’s pumping efforts were ceased in 1932, for drainage procedures were too costly and complicated.


In 1934, the lake was under ownership of the United States government and under management by the Mattamuskeet Wildlife Refuge. Today the lake is a refuge for birds migrating up the Atlantic seaboard and is an active tourist destination with 50,000 visitors a year. The lake is a popular recreation area for hunting and fishing. The number of geese, and ducks vary in the thousands from year to year. The lake remains shallow with a maximum depth of five feet and attracts many conoers.