Topsail Island, NC

Topsail Island, 26 miles of white, sandy beaches and maritime forests, is tucked below Camp Lejeune Marine Base along North Carolina’s southern outer banks midway between Cape Lookout and Cape Fear. The island has an interesting history of uses and occupations before it was developed as a resort area with three distinct towns.

Topsail (pronounced “topsul”) Island’s history parallels that of America, with evidence of prehistoric Indian villages in the area dating back thousands of years. If you think you see an arrowhead, you may actually be right! Beachcombers sometimes find artifacts from the Tucscarora Indians who made hunting trips to Topsail in the 1700’s.

Written records describing Topsail Island begin with early explorers in the 1500’s who sailed up the protected inland waterways along the Carolina coast noting its abundant seafood beds. According to local legend, these same sounds and inlets were used by daredevil swashbucklers in the 1600-1700’s to careen their ships and for hiding holes from which to prey on passing merchant ships.

As the freighters became wise to this ploy, they began watching for the tops of the pirates’ sails showing over the dunes… hence the name Topsail, according to legend. It is easier to find references to an original 1950s developer declaring the island’s name to be Topsail Island.

Undoubtedly, notorious pirates such as Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet roamed these dunes and waters regularly. Legend holds that treasure is still buried here, although Blackbeard probably spent it before the loot ever had a chance to be buried.

In the 1800s a salt works that produced salt for meat preservation during the Civil War was situated on Sloop Point. At this time, and until the late 1940s, the only way to get to Topsail Island was over sand bars and shallows at low tide. There were no settlements, only fishermen who set up camps and farmers who ran their livestock across from the mainland to graze on Topsail.

Visit Topsail Island (64 miles from Beaufort, NC). It was not until the 1940s and World War II that civilization as we know it came to Topsail Island. Holly Ridge was chosen as the site for Camp Davis, which became an overnight (though short-lived) boomtown. After the war, the island was chosen as the test site for Navy guided missiles under Operation Bumblebee. Because of the important developments that occurred here, Topsail Island became to jet flight development what Kitty Hawk is to propeller flight.

Some 200 experimental missiles were launched here, resulting in the proven success of the ramjet engine which could push an aircraft past the speed of sound. The concrete towers you see scattered about the island were observation posts for the project. This project also brought the construction of a pontoon bridge at what is now Surf City, followed by electricity, artesian wells, and roads. The 20th century had arrived!

When the military left in 1948, permanent residential development began on Topsail Island. Surf City incorporated in 1949, followed by Topsail Beach in 1963 and North Topsail Beach in 1990. But, Topsail Island’s several thousand permanent residents have maintained the simple, island lifestyle built around their small coastal communities that was the island’s magnetic draw from the beginning.