The march of time hasn’t moved quite as quickly in Topsail as it has in more metropolitan areas of North Carolina. Here, the tide and prevailing winds have guided the clock, the sun and sand have dictated our schedules and the catch of the day rings the evening dinner bell.
Spooning the Eastern North Carolina coast between Cape Lookout and Cape Fear, is 26 miles of sparsely populated sandy beaches just waiting to take your breath away. 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 multi-million dollar museums or zoos. Instead, you will find miles of beaches and small, friendly, family-run businesses reminiscent of the beach towns of the 1950s and 1960s.
Visitors from more metropolitan areas will find it hard to believe that places like Topsail still exist. It’s hard to imagine that a sunbather might find a small, isolated sliver of beach to call their own for a day without another person in sight. But, on Topsail, it’s not only possible, it’s probable.
Topsail Island (pronounced Topsul), was mostly uninhabited until the 1940s. There was no structured settlement, 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.
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 the residential community of 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. Days are spent outdoors in Topsail, boating, fishing, sunbathing and enjoying a variety of water sports. Even after the sun goes down, you’ll find most visitors out on their porch, listening to the waves crash against the shore with nothing to interrupt their rhythm except the sound of their own voice.