5 Fascinating Things You Never Knew About Topsail NC



Beautiful Topsail Island has a storied past filled with intrigue, history and even pirates. But how much do you really know about Topsail, North Carolina? And can you separate the facts from the fiction? Let's find out. Here are 5 fascinating things you probably didn't know about Topsail Island. It's time to brush up on your trivia!

Whether you visit, vacation or live here, we think you'll enjoy learning more about Topsail Island. Let us know if you learned something new. 

1. Topsail Island was not really named after the topsails of pirate ships. 

Spoiler alert! Although folklore has it that the Topsail Island (pronounced Tops'l) received its name because pirate ships hid behind the island with their topsails visible from the sea, the name actually came from New Topsail Inlet. This inlet's name can be found on early navigational charts, right along with the other Topsail Inlet located in Beaufort, NC. Soon after J.G. Anderson developed the southernmost end of the island and named it New Topsail Beach—and the island has been called Topsail ever since. 

You can read more about Topsail Island's storied past and fascinating history here.


2. You really can search for buried treasure on Topsail Island.

Local legend rumors that Blackbeard once frequented the area around Cape Fear, even taking pirate Stede Bonnet, AKA “The Gentleman Pirate” (who had some knowledge of local waters) under his wing. These two swashbucklers would stop over in Topsail Island between their trips to the Caribbean, to pillage and plunder passing ships in the busy colonial trade routes. Many locals believe Blackbeard hid his remaining treasure somewhere on the south end of the island, in an area referred to as “the gold hole." While it may just be a rumor, plenty of artifacts have in fact been located in the Cape Fear region dating to the time of Blackbeard, giving hope to North Carolina treasure hunters. You can read more here: Blackbeard and the Legend of Topsail Island Treasure.

But if you're looking for a sure thing, we suggest hunting for these coastal treasures instead. You're guaranteed success!


3. You'll hear a lot about WASPs and Bumblebees here. 

Not the stinging kind exactly, but WASPS and Bumblebees of a different kind. Topsail Island is steeped in military history and has a lot of stories to tell. 

WASP stands for Women Airforce Service Pilots, a group of top-secret women volunteers who were trained to fly American military aircraft and were a vital part of the war effort in World War II. One of the WASP training bases was located at Fort Davis in Holly Ridge, NC, where these fearless female pilots flew important radar deception missions over the coast and Topsail Island. 

Operation Bumblebee was the US Navy’s secret guided missile testing program that operated on Topsail Island from 1946-1948. You'll be fascinated to learn more about how Topsail Island served as a proving ground for some of the first US missile efforts. The ramjet engine (the main concept for today’s supersonic flight) was tested and proven on Topsail Island as a result of Operation Bumblebee. You can see some of the observation towers used in Operation Bumblebee still standing today on Topsail Island. Can you find them all? Here's a hint: a couple of them have been turned into Topsail beach homes and one is now the Missiles and More Museum. There were eight in all and seven still remain today.

Stop by the Missiles and More Museum during your next Topsail beach vacation to learn more about the amazing history of Topsail Island. It's a great history lesson and field trip for the kids, history buffs, or anyone looking to learn more about the island's past. The museum is housed in the historic Assembly Building located at 720 Channel Boulevard in Topsail Beach.


4. Topsail Island is beneficial—for reasons well beyond a fabulous beach vacation.

Topsail Island is a barrier island, and part of a chain of barrier islands along the Carolina coastline and eastern United States, that has a vital function and offers quite a few benefits because of its position and location. What is a barrier island? Good question! Barrier islands are long, narrow, offshore deposits of sand or sediments that parallel the coast line. The islands are separated from the mainland by a shallow sound, bay or lagoon. Barrier islands are often found in chains along the coast line and are separated from each other by narrow tidal inlets.


  • One of the benefits of a barrier island like Topsail Island is that it provides protection for the mainland from severe storms and hurricanes. That's not always good for Topsail Island itself, but it sure does help the mainland of coastal North Carolina. Evidence of this happened on July 12, 1996 when Hurricane Bertha hit the island, followed less than two months later by Fran on September 5. The combination of two powerful storms so close together devastated the inland. The estimated losses from both hurricanes was well over $6 billion. Hurricane Hazel hit the island in October 1959, Bonnie hit in 1998, and Hurricane Floyd hit 1999. Despite the risks, barrier islands also happen to be some of the most popular and most beautiful beach vacation destinations. 


  • Another big benefit of a barrier island is that its estuaries are vital for nurturing the ecosystem and harboring unique coastal wildlife. The estuaries provide a calm and nutrient rich environment that sea life thrives in. The waters off the coast on North Carolina are teeming with life. Marlin, flounder, grouper, and trout are among the many fish that are plentiful in these waters. Shrimp, crab, clams, oysters, and scallops can also be found here. Sharks enjoy this area also. 


  • Finally, Topsail Island is a sea turtle sanctuary. The loggerhead turtle comes ashore every spring to lay its eggs and cover them with sand. The clutches of eggs hatch in late summer and early fall when the hatchlings must make their way to the ocean. It's quite a journey! The Topsail Sea Turtle project began due to the turtles nesting on this island. For hundreds of years even before Topsail Island received its name, turtles were laying their eggs on the dunes. The mission began as a few volunteers but has blossomed into quite the operation today. Founded by Karen Beasley, her dream was reached and included tasks provided by volunteers such as walking the beaches at night, staking out the nesting sites, and overseeing the hatching of the eggs. Only after Karen's death in 1991 did her mother Jean Beasley take over and she still remains at the helm today. You can read more about Topsail sea turtles here.


5. Topsail Beach was named Best Little Beach Town in America by TripAdvisor.

Those of us who live and vacation here already know there is so much to love about Topsail Island and its beaches in a way that's not like other popular beach destinations on the East Coast. There's a quintessential beach vibe and island way of life that is unique to Topsail. 

In this TripAdvisor poll, Topsail Island edged out Jamestown, Rhode Island, Traverse City, Michigan and Morro Bay, California to take the crown of Best Little Beach Town. The Topsail Beach entry was island-wide, recognizing the 26-mile-long barrier island that also includes Surf City and North Topsail Beach.

Here's what they had to say: 

"Topsail Beach shares a 26-mile-long barrier island with two other sandy destinations: North Topsail and Surf City. Without huge hotels or glitzy attractions, Topsail is a place to enjoy the beach in its purest, simplest form—without the crowds or chaos of some popular coastal towns. If your idea of paradise involves long days spent relaxing in the sun, lazily casting a line or catching up on your to-read list, you’ll love the island’s private, cozy cottages and beachside retreats just steps from the ocean. Spend a rainy day at the Missiles and More Museum, where exhibits explore the secret missile testing program in Topsail during WWII and the pirate lore behind the beach’s name."

by TripAdvisor

You can read more about Why Topsail Was Named Best Little Beach Town in the USA right here.


So there you have it! How many of these facts about Topsail Island did you know?


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