Sneads Ferry, Holly Ridge, And Hampstead

Snead's Ferry

Now let's go back up to the north end of Topsail Island and, this time, work our way down the mainland coast, visiting with the various communities that shape and influence the rarefied atmosphere of island life.

Before there was a so-called high-rise bridge at the north end of the island, a ferry operated for more than 200 years, originally known as Ennett's Lower Ferry. A wooden bridge was built in 1939, and a couple bridge replacements later the present new bridge allows for the totally unimpeded flow of vehicular traffic in both directions.

Camp Lejeune is on the mainland side of that bridge, and a steady flow of toned and tanned young recruits are frequent users of the bridge, the beach and the bars on Topsail Island.

Then there's the commercial fishing community, one thing that hasn't really changed a whole lot in Snead's Ferry since the days of Ennett's Lower Ferry. Only a few fast-food drive-throughs and a strip mall have in any way altered the complexion of an old-time fishing village that each year takes in more fish than any other Onslow County port, more than 385 tons of shrimp, 25 tons of flounder, and nearly 500 tons of clams, scallops, oysters, mullet, spot, grouper, sea bass and crabs.

Snead's Ferry Shrimp Festivalis in August, prime time for shrimp, and there is a parade, a festival queen, a shrimp ball, a street dance, live music, fireworks, arts and crafts booths, food booths, a beer and wine garden. And lord, these folks are competitive, with a shrimp heading and peeling contest, a shrimp cooking contest and a trash barrel decorating contest.

The shrimp festival is held at the Snead's Ferry Community Building, 126 Park Lane, home of the Snead's Ferry Community Theater. To catch a play, call the box office at 910-327-2798.

Also in August is the King Mackarel Tournament hosted by the local Rotary Club. Each year more than $30,000 in tournament entry fees helps to fund projects near and dear to the club, most particularly the Percy Jenkins Senior Citizens Dinner, the high school scholarship program and holiday giving during the Christmas season.

Up until recent years you could cut through Snead's Ferry, get a temporary pass at the back gate to cross through Camp Lejeune, and wind up near Jacksonville, one of the area's largest cities. Those days are gone. If you're not affiliated with the military and have no better excuse than it's a great shortcut, you won't be allowed on base. Look on a map and pick another route, one that doesn't jeopardize national security.

Even driving around Lejeune, Jacksonville still isn't all that far away and, as one of the largest cities on the North Carolina coast, has way more big-city amenities than can be found anywhere else in the region.

Holly Ridge

Camp Davis came to Holly Ridge in 1943, a massive military installation, larger than most towns in these parts and rising out of the agricultural soil in this rural area almost overnight on more than 4,500 acres with close to 1,000 buildings, including barracks, mess halls, recreational buildings, theaters, warehouses, a hospital and a post office.

Just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished, and acquired an almost mythical presence in a little town that basically shrank back down almost to its original size. Now all you'll see are a few streets that used to go to the camp but instead dead-end at a forest. Camp Lejeune aircraft still occasionally use an old airstrip somewhere back there behind the trees.

It was from this base that Operation Bumblebee was conducted on Topsail Island, and before Camp Davis moved in only 28 residents lived here. After the anti-aircraft artillery training base was fully staffed and operating, the local population went to right around 110,000.

Now Holly Ridge has roughly 1,000 residents, but most recently the Department of Defense has reacquired the abandoned camp that first fell into civilian hands and then into extinction. So, who knows, the town's second population explosion could take off like a test missile sometime in the near future.

The Holly Festival is held in November, a prime opportunity to buy local arts and crafts, not to mention holly for making holiday decorations.

Hampstead

Hampstead's proximity to Wilmington and to the beach has made it a high-growth area. The closest beach, unfortunately, is Figure Eight Island, a very exclusive and very gated seaside community. A guard's station at the bridge turns away all visitors whose names aren't on a list of residents and guests, so that most Hampstead residents drive the extra couple miles north to Topsail Island, or south to Wrightsville Beach.

About five miles south of Hampstead on Highway 17 is Poplar Grove Plantation. On Wednesdays in the summertime, the lawn is teeming with a very successful farmers market, acres of tents and tables and vegetables and crafts.

The house and grounds are open for tours several times daily and the tour includes a tenant farmer's cabin, craft shops where costumed docents demonstrate basketmaking and weaving, and a blacksmith's shop.

This land was a peanut plantation for half a century before the manor house was built by Joseph Mumford Foy in 1849. The Greek Revival style house has 4,284 square feet, 12 fireplaces, two pairs of corbelled interior chimneys and 12 rooms.

An annual Spot Festival comes to Hampstead in September celebrating a small fish resembling a croaker, found in plentiful numbers in these waters, typically fried up in batter and served with a garnish of live music and dance.

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Terms: Topsail Island: Sneads Ferry, Holly Ridge, And Hampstead

Information on Topsail Island: Sneads Ferry, Holly Ridge, And Hampstead.

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