Not long after the end of WWII, from 1946 to 1948, the United States began a program testing rockets to be used in modern jet propulsion, spacecraft, and missiles.
The program, “Operation Bumblebee” was named because, like the missiles of the time, bumblebees should not be able to fly.
Back then Topsail Island was a barren barrier island without homes, stores, or even roads.
In March of 1947, the military research team built a number of structures to house the experimental project and provide a test platform. The Navy built a launchpad, a control tower, a rocket assembly building, and eight photographic towers used to track and study the flights of the rockets.
When the Navy left for larger facilities in Cape Canaveral, New Mexico, and California, the buildings were turned over to private landowners.
The towers are all still standing, and over the years most of them have been remodeled into homes or incorporated into larger structures, but if you look closely enough, you can find all of them.
These concrete towers have stood the test of time and the ravages of numerous hurricanes.
Driving into Topsail Beach from Surf City, folks can’t miss these iconic towers that have been fueling the imagination of residents and tourists for decades.
In the current town of Topsail Beach, ”The Assembly Building” was where the rockets were assembled.
Directly in front of the building is a three-story concrete tower that served as observation for the rockets while being fired off the coast of Topsail Island.
The military also built a roadway system down the island providing access to several other towers and buildings.
In several places, the current road is in the exact place as first laid out in 1947.
Over the following 18 months, as many as 200 experimental rockets, each measuring six inches in diameter and between three and 13 feet in length, were fabricated at the Assembly Building, sent to the launch site, and fired along with a northeasterly angular deflection of 15 degrees to the shoreline for a maximum clear distance of 40 miles.
The site was later abandoned by the military because of weather patterns and increasing
However, the foundation of the modern world of rocket and jet propulsion was laid out right here in Topsail Island.
Today, many of the “Operation Bumblebee” structures still exist but are modified as government or community buildings (Assembly Building), homes and warehouses.
You can still see these original structures in the Town of Topsail Beach (a watchtower), halfway between Surf City and Topsail Beach (another watchtower).
In Surf City, there is a tower that has been modified as an oceanfront home while in Topsail Beach, a sound side home is built along with the original watchtower.
The site of the former Ocean City Pier (in North Topsail Beach) still holds a tower that was once used as the pier house.
Learn more at the Missiles and More Museum on Topsail Island, NC
The Missiles and More Museum came to life when a group of citizens was concerned for the future of the historical Assembly Building. The building, constructed in 1946, was used by the government to assemble missiles for a secret missile operation being conducted on Topsail Island. These citizens began to pursue their goal to preserve the building and After several years of research, feasibility studies and meeting with state and local representatives the building was purchased. Thus the Assembly Building became the perfect place to house the Missiles and More Museum. The late Betty Polzer’s dream was to promote the history of Topsail Island And through her persistence, her dream was finally realized and the Missiles and More Museum opened its door in 1995.
The Museum is housed in the Historical Assembly Building located at
720 Channel Blvd.,
Topsail Beach, N.C. 28460