The towers of Topsail Island: History that still stands

The towers of Topsail Island: History that still stands
Some of the Operation Bumblebee towers in Topsail Beach are being pre-fabricated into homes.
You can visit the Operation Bumblebee towers on Topsail Island. (Source: WECT)
You can visit the Operation Bumblebee towers on Topsail Island. (Source: WECT)
You can visit the Operation Bumblebee towers on Topsail Island. (Source: WECT)
You can visit the Operation Bumblebee towers on Topsail Island. (Source: WECT)

TOPSAIL BEACH, NC (WECT) - They are concrete structures that have stood the test of time and the ravage of hurricanes.

If you've driven from Surf City into Topsail Beach, you can't miss the iconic towers that have fueled the imagination of tourists and residents alike.

"That's the first thing they say, "What are these strange buildings?' and I say, 'Let me tell you. It's a long story,'" Evelyn Bradshaw with the Missiles and More Museum said. "People need to know the significance of them. These towers are a part of U.S. history."

In the 1940s, the 24-mile stretch of Topsail Island was barren — no roads, no people, no stores. The remote island made it a perfect setting for the Navy to test missiles, which it did from 1946-48 as part of Operation Bumblebee.

"The main purpose of these towers were to test the ramjet engine," Bradshaw said.

Operation Bumblebee included the development and testing of the Navy's first supersonic guided missile and the ramjet engine, which Bradshaw believes was the start for today's jet aircraft and warheads.

"This is not just history for Topsail Island," she said. "It's history right here for the world and it's why the U.S. led aviation technology for so many years."

Today, seven of the eight towers remain. Many are vacant and dilapidated but some have been bought by private investors and made into prefabricated homes.

"I think it's amazing that these homes have kept the integrity of the concrete towers," Bradshaw said. "It's history that has been made new again."

To learn more about Operation Bumblebee, and to get an up-close look at the towers, visit the Missiles and More Museum at 720 Channel Blvd., Topsail Beach, NC, 28445.

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