Topsail Island was not always a favorite beach vacation or second home spot.
Just after the end of WWII, the United States began to test rockets to be used in modern jet propulsion, spacecraft and missiles. The operation was named, “Operation Bumblebee”, because like missiles of the time, bumblebees should not be able to fly.
At this time, Topsail Island was a barren barrier island with no homes, stores or even roads.
In March of 1947, the military research team built many structures to house the experimental project and provide a test platform. In the current town of Topsail Beach, ”The Assembly Building” was where the rockets were assembled. Directly in front of the building is a three story concrete tower that served as observation for the rockets while being fired off the coast of Topsail Island.
The military also built a road way system down the island to provide access to several other towers and buildings. In many places, the current road is in the exact place as first laid out in 1947.
During the next 18 months, an estimated 200 experimental rockets, each measuring six inches in diameter and between three and 13 feet in length, were fabricated at the Assembly Building, dispatched to the launch site, and fired along a northeasterly angular deflection of 15 degrees to the shoreline for a maximum clear distance of 40 miles.
The site was later abandoned by the military because of weather patterns and increased
sea traffic. Although the foundation of the modern world of rocket and jet propulsion was laid out right here in Topsail Island.
Today, many of the structures still exist but are modified as gov’t or community buildings (Assembly Building), homes and warehouses.
You can see original structures in the Town of Topsail Beach (a watch tower), half way between Surf City and Topsail Beach (another watch tower). In Surf City, there is a tower that has been modified as an oceanfront home while in Topsail Beach, a soundside home is built along the original watch tower. The site of the former Ocean City Pier in North Topsail Beach still holds a tower that was once used as the pier house.
Topsail Island, Surf City, Topsail Beach, North Topsail Beach