NCCOAST: Vacation and Entertainment Source for North Carolina's Crystal Coast: Topsail



Getting to Know Topsail

Hugging the Eastern North Carolina coastline, about midway between Cape Lookout and Cape Fear, is 26 miles of meandering, sparsely populate sandy beaches just waiting for visitors. The world of Topsail Island could easily be equated to stepping back in time – a time when life was just a little bit simpler, a little bit safer and far less stressful. There are no amusement parks. No bike week. No multimillion dollar museums or zoos to lure guests to the region. Instead, you will find miles of beaches and small, friendly, family-run businesses reminiscent of the beach towns of the 1950s and 1960s.

    Anyone coming from a more metropolitan area will find it hard to believe that places like Topsail still exist. It’s hard to imagine that there are places where a sunbather can find a small, isolated sliver of beach to call their own for a day. But, on Topsail, it’s not only possible, it’s probable.

    Topsail Island (pronounced Topsul), was mostly uninhabited until the 1940s. There were no structured settlements, only fishing camps and the livestock belonging to mainland farmers who would run their charges across sandbars and shallows at low tide to graze on the thick underbrush.

    Thanks go to the military for raising awareness of this little slice of heaven. During World War II, the US Army constructed Camp Davis in nearby Holly Ridge and used the remote island for artillery training. When the Army departed a few short years later, the US Navy picked up the torch, taking up residence on Topsail Island for secret Operation Bumblebee missile tests.

    While it was the Army that constructed the island’s first humble buildings, it was the Navy that gave the island its most prominent structures, many of which remain. More than 200 missiles were launched, proving the success of the ramjet engine which laid the foundation for the space shuttle program with its ability to push an aircraft past the speed of sound.

    The government was gone by 1948, but it left a few remnants behind, including a pontoon bridge to Surf City, basic roads, artesian wells and electricity. Topsail Island was finally ready for inhabitants. Surf City incorporated in 1949, Topsail Beach in 1963 and North Topsail in 1990.

    Life today is much like it was when the first soldiers set foot on the island, quiet, peaceful and endlessly picturesque. Sure, technology has arrived. The internet is available, cable TV and all. But, that doesn’t mean that residents or visitors are spending a lot of time indoors using them. With a never ending amount of outside activities, from sunbathing and fishing to kayaking and golf, people discover their time at Topsail is best spent outdoors.