Topsail Island—from top to bottom

Story by Lois Carol Wheatley

According to local legend, the likes of Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet hid in the marshes waiting in ambush for 17th-century merchant ships to sail the coast. The merchants learned to look to the marshes, where they could see the tops of the pirates' sails peeking up over a low screen of live oaks—clearly their cue to make a run for it.

Some say Topsail Island took its name from this scrap of song and legend, while others credit Edgar L. Yow, mayor of Wilmington and one of the first homesteaders back when there was no electricity, no indoor plumbing and no bridge, for inventing the name.

However it came about, in these parts that's pronounced "topsl."

Two bridges from the mainland carry beach-bound traffic to the island paradise, the northernmost being the so-called high-rise—well, it's higher than the other one, so it doesn't have to open for boat traffic—that runs from Snead's Ferry to North Topsail Beach.

The other one on Highway 210 is called a swing bridge because it swings perpendicular every hour, on the hour, to let the boat traffic come and go. This one takes you from Surf City to-well, Surf City. The town that is at the center of the island straddles both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway, and it also straddles the Onslow and Pender county lines.

Surf City is the hub of local commerce and, as proof, it has the only traffic signal on the entire island at the intersection of Highways 50 and 210.

At the south end of the island, Topsail Beach is the only one of the island's three municipalities that doesn't have its own bridge. It compensates by having other interesting attractions — a history museum and a sea turtle hospital.

On this 26-mile-long island, the year-round population of 3,500 mushrooms to 35,000 in the summertime. The vacationers show up with beach chairs and umbrellas, boats and surfboards, sunscreen and coolers to indulge themselves in some swimming, sunbathing, fishing, sailing, diving and surfing. For any or all of those activities, take your pick of any of these three little towns.

If you're like so many coming down from the north, your first chance to park the car and go screaming into the ocean, legs pumping, arms outstretched, will be at a point not far from that north-end bridge, at a public beach access in North Topsail Beach.

North Topsail Beach

The New River Inlet meets the sea at the northernmost tip of Topsail Island , making it a prime fishing hole, and the fishing pier is one popular spot. The bridge to North Topsail leaves the mainland in the general vicinity of the New River Marine Base,Camp Lejeune, and Snead's Ferry.

Stump Inlet separated the northern portion from the rest of the island at one time and, as with many seaside features, this waterway receded and at last vanished. Still it is evident that the locals think it may decide to return someday, and might visit temporarily, and thus have erected a string of yellow, diamond-shaped, permanently-affixed "High Water" traffic signs.

The other place you'll see signs of that bygone waterway is on the menu. Stump Sound oysters are served in restaurants here, most plentiful in the fall.

The trivia enthusiast should know that the New River is the only river in the nation that begins and ends in one county. Stump your friends with that one.

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