Joe Knapp's


Mackey Island

Currituck, North Carolina


The coast of North Carolina has always reminded me of the Moriches Bay Area and the photos I've seen of Knott's Island & Mackey Island look very much like Mastic Beach did in the 1950's. Lots of water, swamp and pine & oak trees. This latest group of photos you will see here come to you through the courtesy of Archie Johnson of Virginia. Archie who along with Bud Coppedge has authored a very fine book titled "Gun Clubs & Decoys Of Back Bay & Currituck Sound". After viewing the Knapps Lived Here websight, Archie was not only kind enough to allow me to use his book photos of Joe Knapp's big place on Mackey Island, he sent me others that didn't appear in the book. So I want to start this page off not only with an acknowledgement to Archie Johnson but a heads up about his book.


Joseph P. Knapp has long been acknowledged as the father of Ducks Unlimited organization. I would think that any person, D U member or not, that's involved in wild fowling would want a copy of this book because it really covers the history in both text and illustrations of an era and area (North Carolina & Virginia) where this sports roots run very deep. It also traces the start of the wealthy sportsmans gunning clubs to Long Island, NY in 1870 's " where there were so many clubs listed, that the prospective gunner was in a happy predicament of having too many choices" Archie & Bud's stories of the carvers, caretakers and the characters that helped make it what it was, has given me a deeper understanding of the world of ducks according to Knapp. I can only imagine how much more a certified "water fowler" would get out of it. You can find the book at several places on the internet like Hunting Rig Books or if you are interested, you can e mail me and I can put you in touch with Archie.




Thomas Dixon in North Carolina with Spot & Frank 1920's


Thomas Dixon who knew Joseph Knapp much longer than most history has ever reported, bought the 7000 acre Mackey Island in 1916. Most likely with some of his profits from the film Birth Of A Nation. Knapp often visited him to go hunting there. By 1918 Knapp bought the island off him. The main house that Dixon used for a lodge, was originally constructed by the John L. Roper lumber company in the early 1900's for their lumberjacks to board in. It had a great view of the water, but most likely was not suitable for the Knapps to entertain in, so Knapp dismantled it and constructed a 3 story 37 room "Mount Vernon" Georgian style home in it's place and developed 2,500 acres with canals, docks, outbuildings, caretaker residences etc as his personal retreat for hunting, fishing, entertaining and enjoying life.



Knapp contributed greatly to the economy of the area. He kept the estate open year round with 60 employees. His 1920 property taxes alone came to $15,000.00 a year. Just like his Tenacre place in Southampton, Long Island this home was only two years old when his wife Elizabeth Laing Knapp passed away in June of 1922. When she died, he considered selling the Mackey Island estate along with the Southampton one. However he must of thought twice, because in 1923 he married Margaret Rutledge at the Currituck Lodge. She was 39 and he was 59. They would spend twenty eight more years together there.


A Happy Islander !

Joe Knapp at Mackey Island circa 1925

Photo: courtesy Archie Johnson


This is Knapp's launch the "Lemara" taken in 1920. The Currituck Lighthouse is visible on the far left.

Photo: courtesy Archie Johnson


Mr. Doxey, Another Happy Islander

This is Issac Doxey at the back gate of the main house. A native islander and longtime caretaker, Doxey was labeled by Knapp as a "DUCKOLIGIST" and ran the breeding program for ducks, pheasant, and other game birds. Photo: courtesy Archie Johnson


As you can tell by these 1930 photos Mr. Doxey got results.



The Slightly Restyled " Lemara" in 1944

Does anyone out there know who the three men aboard her are?
Or where her name came from? The boat according to Archie's notation was given to
the US Navy in WWII.


Joseph Palmer Knapp made life a whole lot more livable for many of his neighbors in the Currituck area, and it was more than just economic, though his residence there through the "Great Depression" could not have been more beneficial. But Knapp's influences went far beyond that. His contributions to the education system are well documented, and today there are schools and libraries in North Carolina that have his name rightfully chiseled in stone. But I believe firmly (and I'm far from alone on this) that seeing his name in cement was the furthest thing from his mind. Just the opposite holds true, his private nature still makes things very difficult to do a thorough full credit biography of him.

One of his overlapping pet projects was that better education would lead to better government. The following excerpt is from the Institute Of Government at UNC Chapel Hill websight on the contributions The Knapp Foundation have made to them:


Joseph Knapp grew interested in the operations of local government and, when he heard of the early work the Institute of Government, he wrote to the founder, Albert Coates, to learn more. Years later, Coates wrote of Knapp: "He saw that money wasted in honest inefficiency was as great a burden to taxpayers as money lost in conscious fraud; saw the need for systematic training of public officials for the public services before going into office and thereafter in continued training on the job. If lawyers needed schooling for advising human beings, and ministers needed schooling for guiding the human spirit, and doctors needed schooling for working with the human body, why not schooling for officials working with the body politic?"

Knapp died before he and Coates could meet, but in 1952, his widow, Margaret Rutledge Knapp, renewed the family interest at a time the Institute of Government was struggling to fulfill its mission in cramped quarters on Franklin Street. The Knapp Foundation issued its $500,000 challenge grant, and in 1956 the Institute moved into the Joseph Palmer Knapp Building at the corner of South Road and Country Club Road.

The Knapp family never lost touch with Chapel Hill. In recent years, it donated money for laboratories in UNC's Lineberger Cancer Center and for the cancer center's Joseph Palmer Knapp Library.

And anyone of sound mind would have to agree with Joe Knapp's solid common sense idea of "We educate our lawyers, doctors, ministers etc WHY NOT SCHOOLING FOR OFFICIALS WORKING WITH THE BODY POLITIC?"

Right On Joe! It was needed then and it's still sorely needed perhaps more than ever. ....But I have to say the fate of your Currituck home at the hands of some idiot (s) in the federal government system clearly demonstrates the need for better education far beyond the reaches of the institute. Here is what happened.... it makes the screwing the church gave to your Mastic Beach place look like amateur night.


But first a wee bit more about what I know about "The Old Man's Big Place in Carolina" as they called it around the Crowell- Collier offices back in NYC in the '30's.


As I mentioned it had 37 rooms ( not sure if the bathrooms were counted in that number) It was of similar style (3 story Georgian) but about twice the size of the Mastic Beach place (21 rooms),which although belonged to both his son and daughter Joseph F. & Claire A. Knapp, was paid for no doubt by J.P.

Some of the rooms at Knapp Lodge, besides the myriad bed and guest rooms, included a drawing room, a morning room for Mrs. Knapp, an office for J.P., a butlers pantry off of the dining room, an ENORMOUS kitchen (shades of Mastic Beach) Wine cellars, swimming pool, and a separate residence off the kitchen breezeway for household staff. There was an additional separate residences for the gardener (Mrs Knapp had prize roses) marsh guards,and hunting guides. barns, boathouse and gate house completed the compound.*

*Allan Miller papers 1987 D.H. Hill Library UNC Chapel Hill


Now as for the fate of the place.....

Margaret Rutledge Knapp was 68 years old when Joseph Palmer Knapp passed on at age 86 in January of 1951. They had spent a lot of good years together at the lodge but the thought of going back to a place that size alone must of weighed on her mind. She put it up for sale and also moved out of their 12 room River House Apartment in NY City for a smaller place back on Park Ave.


By 1952 Knapp Lodge at Mackey Island had a new owner. Mr James J. Standing of Virginia Beach. By 1954 Standing sold it to The Richardson Brothers Lumber Company of Richmond, Va. who bought it for the timber. Then in 1961 a year after Margaret passed away it came into the hands of the federal government, who turned it into the Mackey Island Wildlife Refuge which I'm sure would of pleased Joe & Margaret immensely...but the governments decision on the lodge probably caused a big rumble in the ground up the road in Moyock where the Knapps are resting in peace side by side. With 7000 acres + I'm sure they had room for lots of wildlife to take refuge in....the house as big as it was did not take up the room to justify their decision to just tear it down and if that wasn't bad enough Mr. Knapp could not be too pleased in the price Kermit Land the house wrecker paid the government for it. ......... are you ready gang?.....would you believe $57.52 ....that's right .... its not a typo I've left out nothing.... Fifty Seven Dollars and Fifty Two Cents....does it look better written out? Makes the Mastic Beach place going for 5g look extravagant! Got to wonder who came up with that figure and if J. P. was around would he of held out for a little more!!!!



Photo: courtesy Archie Johnson



Knapp Lodge (green arrow) was situated on Live Oak Point

1940 Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service