In The Beginning
Surf City came to be in 1949 when a group of men, among them Roland Batts, Al Ward, Ed Yow and David Lucas met to determine what that specific part of Topsail Island was to be called. Ed Yow, an enterprising lawyer from Wilmington, had been purchasing land on the island for several years before World War II. He pictured a small oceanfront community and dreamed of one day developing the area. Ed visited it often to go fishing, often walking along the shore daydreaming and fashioning quaint cottages among the windblown water oaks and dunes. More often than not he brought his good friend Al Ward with him on these walks. Al was a Realtor from Wilmington and shared Ed’s vision of an every man’s vacation spot.
Roland Batts, son of J.H. Batts, also shared an interest in developing the narrow barrier island, or sandbar. His family had owned land there since the 1860s and his dream of living on the island had been blossoming since his childhood when he led cattle from the mainland across the shallow water to graze and from his days of coming there to seine fish with family and friends.
Prior to 1948 the nameless island had been leased from local farmers and by the government for a secret guided missile program known as Operation Bumblebee. Observation towers were then built throughout the island, as well as a launch pad for the missiles. One might say that Operation Bumblebee was a precursor to Cape Canaveral since after eighteen months, the program pulled out and headed to Florida.
Before being used as a missile site, Topsail Island was an anti aircraft training range during World War II. As part of Camp Davis (located in Holly Ridge) it was home to several barracks, an officer’s club, warehouses, fire houses and other facilities . Though the island was used as a training range for the Army, military personnel enjoyed the natural resources and amenities and hundreds came to enjoy the ocean and the fishing there.
Before the 1940s, and before the government used the land, it was used mostly for grazing cattle and fishing. No homes were on the island except for the occasional fishing shack. There was no electricity, no roads and no access to the island except during low tide or by boat.
Seine fishing was a big deal in those days and families from Sloop Point to Sneads Ferry partook in the activity. These millions of tons of fish gathered on those seine fishing days were harvested and taken to Wilmington where they were sold to the highest bidder.
Those were salad days for the folks of this area. Read next week’s article to learn more about seine fishing. It’s hard to believe that folks worked that hard for something they needed, but they did.
Part of Issue 2: