Missiles And More

The Missiles & More Museum is located in the Assembly Building at 720 Channel Boulevard.

Like the missile program, the Assembly Building has had a checkered past. After it stopped producing missiles it became a building supply store, a restaurant and bar, and a boutique. When the Topsail Island Historical Society acquired it, one section was set aside for the museum and the main hall was set up for community functions.

A mural artist has painted nautical scenes in multiple panels around the large room and a catering kitchen services weddings and fundraising functions. Bingo nights during the summer are on Thursdays.

An international seashell collection in glass cases lines one side of the main hall, excluded from the museum dedicated solely to local history. These shells are from Europe, Asia and Africa. A private donor installed the cases and supplied the shells, some of them collected on foreign shores during the 19th century.

More than missiles

In the museum, artifacts are on display from Algonquin and Sioux tribes that probably passed through this area on hunting and fishing expeditions, leaving behind a trail of arrowheads and pottery shards. A 12-year-old boy in recent years discovered the remnants of a dugout canoe that may have been rigged up with a mast in imitation of the vessels of the colonists.

Two exhibits reveal the startling fact that the civil rights movement and the feminist movement somehow found their way to this secluded spot, by boat and by plane

All land sale contracts on Topsail during the 1950s specifically contained the following wording: "no lots in subdivisions shall be sold or owned by any Negro, Mulatto, Japanese or Chinese person." Nevertheless, the first black beachside community was created in the 1950s and named Ocean City.

The aforementioned Edgar Yow—who is also credited with persuading the military to pack up and go home—sold land to the Chestnut family which, to this day, continues to occupy a piece of property formerly owned by the government and containing one of those concrete-block towers.

WASPS were here in addition to bumblebees, the Womens Air Service Pilots, a sort of aeronautical wartime version of Rosie the Riveter. From 1942 to '44 female pilots covered for the shortage of male pilots, at first just to pick up planes from manufacturers and deliver them to air bases. Eventually their limited activities evolved into a full-scale military flight regime, "flying the targets," as they say.

Then there is the legend of "the gold hole," dug in the 1930s by a New Yorker who became convinced that a Spanish galleon had wrecked on Topsail. This gentleman had what he believed was a treasure map, and guessed that such a shipwreck would have left a vast fortune buried somewhere under the dunes, at a spot pretty closely pinpointed on his map.

With no bridge in place — though it is said farmers were able to walk their cattle across the sound at low tide — equipment and workers had to be found and brought in by boat. The gold hole went down to 40 feet deep, requiring pilings to support the dunes and pumps to pump out the water.

Apparently the New Yorkers abandoned the project and vanished overnight, leaving the workers behind to speculate what might have happened. Did they get out of this losing proposition rather than continue to throw good money after bad? Or did they secretly find what they were looking for? The truth will never be known—but the workers tend to believe they went home with their cash reserves seriously depleted and an embarrassing incident firmly put behind them, never to be discussed again.

The eight concrete-block towers that dot the island are collected in a photo collage that depicts what became of them after they were no longer used to observe missile launches. A few stand vacant and decaying, sticking out like sore thumbs on the seascape as seen along Highway 50. Others have been incorporated into larger floor plans, with additions and paint jobs and facelifts that have rendered them completely unrecognizable.

Out the back window of the Assembly Building is a great view of the sound, and the home dock of the Vonda Kay and the Buccaneer, charter boats for fishing, shrimping and touring. Passage on the Vonda Kay includes bait, tackle and instruction for full- or half-day fishing trips trolling for black sea bass, snapper, grouper, triggerfish, mahi mahi, amberjack, mackerel and cobia.

Bubba Gump Kid's Shrimp Cruise and sightseeing tours of the island aboard the Buccaneer give kids a chance to catch shrimp and adults an opportunity to see dolphins, osprey, and Blackbeard's old hideout.

The Assembly Building hosts a number of fall festivals, including Autumn With Topsail and Tasting With Topsail.

About two blocks south of the museum, you might see a herd of people swarming to one spot on the beach, looking like a human version of baby sea turtles bubbling out of a nest. If you see such a sight as this, waste no time getting down to the beach to join the crowd. You're just in time for a sea turtle release, an occasion when a patient at the sea turtle hospital is returned to the wild, carried down a ribbon-lined runway, amidst official escorts, cheering crowds, sometimes musical accompaniment.

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