Topsail Island

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John F. Blair, Publisher, Winston-Salem, NC


AFTER A WEEK-LONG FAMILY VACATION on Topsail Island, Ray McAllister went home and wrote a newspaper column about the place where everyone goes 10 miles per hour under the speed limit. This column in The Richmond Times-Dispatch brought a deluge of responses from readers who shared his appreciation for this barrier island off the coast of North Carolina.

As if caught in a time warp, Topsail resembles the resorts of decades past. It has the small-town feel of a family beach, a place with few commercial trappings whose devotees return generation after generation.



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Ray McAllister’s award-winning book is now on audiobook, perfectly read by actor/voice artist John Witt. Listen to the allure of Topsail Island while riding to or from your favorite island — or just day-dreaming of the island.

Available on iTunes, on Amazon — or FREE with a trial membership to

Listen to a sample and get your free copy at

In this book, McAllister tells the many stories of Topsail with the help of those who love the island best. He blends current-day interviews with stories of early pirates, devastating hurricanes, a 1940s dig in search of a 1630 Spanish galleon’s treasure, the U.S. government’s secret rocket program, a modern-day sea-turtle preservation project, and a black bear who came to stroll the beach.

“Topsail Island” has gone into six printings (three hardcover, three paperback). It was nominated for the Library of Virginia Literary Award.

“Topsail Island” was given the Willie Parker Peace History Book Award by the North Carolina Society of Historians in 2007. “This is [a book] to curl up in a chair with and read from cover to cover,” the judges said. “It deals with an array of interesting subjects, from the early days when pirates sailed the seas, to a bear running across the beach and scaring vacationers to death . . . . Then there is the Turtle Hospital, songwriters from the area, the fishermen, the fascinating names people [give] their cottages and houses, hurricanes, different beach areas and the piers. So much fascinating, interesting information in such a little book!” The judges said they “felt sorry for the pirates of yesterday who had to search for and dig up their treasure. Ours was handed to us for judging.”


Map * Preface
Chapter One Mayberry by the Sea * Chapter Two Early Days . . . and Pirates! * Chapter Three The Gold Hole
Chapter Four Towers * Chapter Five Piers * Chapter Six Hurricanes * Chapter Seven Topsail Beach
Chapter Eight Surf City * Chapter Nine Ocean City * Chapter Ten North Topsail
Chapter Eleven Vacations * Chapter Twelve The Collapse * Chapter Thirteen Cottages * Chapter Fourteen Photographs
Chapter Fifteen The Law . . . and the Bear * Chapter Sixteen Waters * Chapter Seventeen Turtles
Chapter Eighteen Songwriters * Chapter Nineteen The Point * Chapter Twenty Mayberry Tomorrow
Acknowledgments * References * Index


Topsail Island: Mayberry By The Sea

“In setting out to create) a good ‘beach read’, … a light, breezy, 200+ page book addressing the appeal of the island today, … McAllister captures the island’s unusual history and small-town charm.

  • Sounds magazine
  • A great read for a day in the sun that stretches into an island night, complete with pounding waves and soft sea breezes, enhanced by mystical tales of pirates and search for buried treasure. … ‘Everybody needs a little sand in their soul,’ McAllister quotes from an interview. Topsail Island: Mayberry by the Sea helps put it there and can make the reader who is not on the island want to cross that swing bridge and experience that little bit of magic.”

  • The Pender Post
  • “Wanting to capture the small town charm of Topsail Island and its interesting history, McAllister felt it was important to write a book as a way of preserving what he feels is truly unique and special about the island before it is too late. “I’m an enchanted visitor who’s mesmerized by this place; it’s not perfect, it has issues like weather (hurricanes), development, beach erosion, but it’s really a special place,” said McAllister at his premier book signing June 29. … “What amazed me is how well people on this island describe it, they don’t take it for granted, and they spoke to me about what was unique about it.”‘

  • The Topsail Voice
  • “McAllister, a longtime columnist for the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch whose parents live in Wilmington, visited here last summer and was struck by all the building since Hurricane Fran. “So I was taken by the notion that Topsail needed to be written about,” he wrote, “and soon, while it was still Topsail.” … claims that Mayberry by the Sea isn’t available until July 30, but McAllister has been signing copies right and left on the island.”

  • The (Wilmington) Star-News(NOTE: Topsail Island: Mayberry by the Sea was made available on Topsail Island one month in advance of national publication.)
  • “Ray McAllister, who recently published “Topsail Island: Mayberry by the Sea,” came and launched his new book and did book signings at various locations around the island the entire (Fourth of July) week. “I liked it, and we have had to re-order books twice, so people really liked it,” said (Grier) Fleishauer (co-owner of The Gift Basket in Topsail Beach). He said he felt it brought people into the store and that his other sales increased as a direct result.”

  • The Topsail Voice
  • “Ray’s probably in trouble with (those who want to keep Topsail secret), but not with those of us unfamiliar with Topsail’s allure, though both groups will like his book. … It is a valuable oral history, considering all the people Ray got to talk about the island. And there’s plenty to talk about: pirates, buried treasure, a secret rocket-testing program, pier fishing, the ocean, turtles and hurricanes, a fact of life in these parts. … The place is far away from the outside world, with an innocence that allows people to leave their doors unlocked and parents to let their children go outside and play unattended. Ray’s research for this book — he interviewed more than 50 people — took him back to Topsail four times in summer, fall and early winter. This summer, he spent a couple of weeks down there on a book tour, where folks waited in hour-long lines to talk to him.”

  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • “McAllister, a columnist for the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, takes loving and telling recollections of Topsail — his and others’ — and mixes in history and vacation tips for this slim new volume. It’s a prime blend of information (not too many statistics) and straightforward feature writing. A worthy companion to take on your trip to the coast.”

  • The Charlotte Observer
  • “Fascinating stories and tales … (in) a beautiful book.”

  • WAAV Radio, 680 AM, Wilmington
  • “An entertaining book blending current day interviews with a dollop of island history.”

  • Topsail Magazine
  • “The book’s 20 chapters hit on the history, hurricanes, towns, vacations, homes, stories, sea turtles and even the future of Topsail Island. Local shops say it has been a bestseller in the store mostly due to word of mouth, he said. “It’s been very popular; we’ve had a lot of interest,” said Grier Fleischhauer, owner of the Gift Basket in Topsail Beach. “It’s a little different than the other books concerning the area. We’ve had historic books, but this one is more anecdotal on stories over the years.” … McAllister hopes his book will “reinforce what people know about how special” the island is. “I hope it will give them a little ammunition in how to keep it this way because there are development issues coming,” he said. “I hope that it will reinforce what they feel about (the island) and how special it is and how it needs to be fought for.” McAllister plans to continue writing books, and even “some years later” do a sequel. “This to me was a very personal book,” he said. “I think I’d like to do another Topsail book and see how the island has reacted to the changes, how well they’ve done in maintaining the Mayberry of the island.”

  • Jacksonville Daily News
  • “Topsail Island is a North Carolina barrier island lying between the Outer Banks and Wilmington. Though 26 miles long, it is but 200 yards wide in places, leading residents and visitors to call it a stretch of paradise. Columnist Ray McAllister captures the island’s unusual history and charm while comparing it to another small town that only exists today in television reruns.”

  • Virginia Living magazine
  • “Is it the idyllic beaches, Blackbeard’s stomping grounds, or the unique swing bridge that gives Topsail Island its magic? Dubbing the area ‘Mayberry by the Sea,’ author Ray McAllister believes that the barrier island’s allure resonates from its continuing small-town atmosphere in which passers-by drive 10 miles per hour under the speed limit, and the community police force takes an active role in community involvement. “Drawing on historical research and numerous interviews with residents and longtime vacationers, McAllister captures the spirit of Topsail Island in 20 story-like chapters. Part island history and lore, the book depicts notable events like pirates’ glory days and devastating hurricanes, particularly Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and Hurricane Fran in 1996. It also describes Operation Bumblebee, the U.S. Navy’s secret rocket program; Ocean City, the first coastal property development in the state available to African-Americans; the Gold Hole, a mysterious dig in search of a Spanish galleon’s treasure in the 1930s and ’40s; and other lesser-known yet equally interesting island events. “In addition to covering Topsail’s history, the book reveals the flavor of the island, from the waters that draw in beachcombers, divers, surfers, and sunset watchers, to the piers, turtle hospital, and family vacations that bring back generation after generation. Although it only stretches 15 square miles, Topsail Island comprises three towns: Topsail Beach, Surf City, and North Topsail Beach. McAllister dedicates chapters to each town, showing their distinctions and attractions, which add to the overall mystique of the island. He does recognize the island’s problems — including managing its rapid growth, ousted fishermen, and beach preservation — but remains hopeful that Topsail will maintain its Mayberry-like charm. While its ‘magic is different things to different people,’ according to the author, there’s no doubt that this island is magical indeed. “McAllister, a columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for 18 years, first wrote about Topsail Island following a family vacation. He was prompted to write the book after readers in both Virginia and North Carolina began telling him their own island stories.”

  • Our State North Carolina magazine
  • Elizabeth Horton, Miss North Carolina 2006, shows off a signed copy. “Lizzie” Horton is a lifelong visitor to Topsail.

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