Topsail Island was largely uninhabited before being seized by the U. S. government to serve as a the location of a secret Navy missile development program dubbed Operation Bumblebee. From 1947 to 1948, the Navy and John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab built and tested rocket-boosted, ramjet-powered missile prototypes on Topsail. (For those who aren't that into this stuff: a ramjet engine uses the engine's forward motion, rather than a rotating air compressor, to compress air. Fuel is ignited in the compressed air stream, producing thrust. Ramjets have to be accelerated to a high speed before they become effective.)
The goal of the Bumblebee program was to develop a ramjet-powered supersonic surface-to-air missile with a range of 10-20 miles. The Navy built facilities on Topsail to build and test missiles, and many of the structures associated with those facilities survive: the former missile assembly building houses the Missiles and More Museum; the concrete launch pad serves as the patio of the Jolly Roger Inn; the firing point control tower is a house; several of the photographic towers are also houses, while others currently sit abandoned. Missiles would be assembled in the assembly building, transported the short distance to the firing point, then fired over the water to be tracked along their flights via the photographic towers.
I spent most of my morning on Topsail looking for fossil shark teeth on the beach. If you don't see the appeal in this activity, I'm not sure I'll be able to explain it so I'm not going to try. I like it. It's fun. It's relaxing. It's challenging. That's it.
The appeal of the small teeth to me is, I think, the "ah-ha" of locating things that everyone else has overlooked. Not to analyze myself too much, but I think the same appeal is also part of my approach to archaeological problems: I've always liked locating and using unspectacular sources of data that others ignore and finding ways to squeeze a little bit more out of less. It doesn't matter how many times others have gone back and forth across the same beach, there's still more information there to be found: the sexy discoveries in no way exhaust the landscape of data.
If you drive as far south on Topsail as you can, then go to the beach and walk as far south as you can, you'll soon be on a new part of the island. The southern tip of the island has been growing at a rate of about 100 feet per year. There aren't any houses there (yet), just sand, water, dunes, and plants. It was a nice place to be. And it has a mailbox.