The Story of Ocean City

by | Apr 30, 2024 | History, Online Exclusives

The history of the Ocean City community is now on full display in an expanded and enhanced exhibit at the Missiles & More Museum in Topsail Beach.

Ocean City, a rare beach community where Blacks could have home ownership in the 1940s, has been an important part of Topsail Island’s history and culture since it was founded in 1949. Details of that history, including the background and the timeline, were recently added to an exhibit at the Missiles & More Museum in Topsail Beach. The museum celebrated the expanded exhibit at an open house on April 20.

Museum Director Laurette Gordon says she worked closely with Carla Torrey and with other historical society researchers to ensure the information presented was accurate and inviting. Gordon says she and the others involved in the project “wanted to give that area a little more exposure, to teach people the history of what happened here.”

Black History Exhibit Topsail Island NC

Gordon and Torrey communicated frequently over the past several months, creating detailed timelines. They wanted to emphasize “what happened, who started building it.” Torrey had quite a bit of information from her research to establish Ocean City as a significant location on the North Carolina Civil Rights Trail, an honor bestowed on the community in 2022.

The expanded exhibit includes the background of the Wilmington massacre of 1898, to establish “the tempo of the time and where it came from,” Gordon says.  She adds that the “massacre happened in Wilmington, but the former mayor of that city (Edgar Yow) was the one that sold the land (Ocean City) to the African Americans.”

Torrey says the exhibit includes “important ideas to recognize the tenacity of the people who started the community and the people who are still there today.” She adds that the exhibit “points to the rich history of the island and what a special community Ocean City was.”

Ocean City Exhibit Topsail Beach NC

The exhibit displays brochures, newspaper articles and photos that were used to entice individuals and families to purchase land that would become the Ocean City community. At the time, in the height of the Jim Crow era, Ocean City became the only beach African Americans were allowed to visit. The opportunity to purchase beachfront property was extraordinary and made possible through a historical interracial collaboration.

Today, the community continues to be a vibrant part of North Topsail Beach.

Its annual Ocean City Jazz Festival is growing in popularity and features three days of music, fun and fellowship. The Wade Chestnut Memorial Chapel, established in 1957, still hosts summer services. Many of the original landowners continue to enjoy homes that were built in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Gaylene Branton and Dr. Edna Smith, researchers and editors with the Historical Society of Topsail Island, contributed to the detailed display. Above Topsail, owned by Jeff Wenzel, helped design the exhibit and created the canvasses.

Ocean City Exhibit Mistles & More

Torrey says of the enhanced display, “It gives us a clear view of the timeline and everything that happened along the way to get the community started.”

The Missiles & More Museum hosts several exhibits on the history and the physiology of the barrier island, from arrowheads and seashells to artifacts, to stories of the island’s runners and raiders, to artifacts from Camp Davis and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Admission is always free.

Want to visit?
Missiles & More Museum
Historical Assembly Building
720 Channel Boulevard, Topsail Beach
(910) 328-8663
Missiles and More Museum Home – Missiles and More Museum
To learn more about Ocean City, visit OCEAN CITY BEACH NC (oceancitync.com)

About the author

Pat Fontana

Pat Fontana

I am a business writer and communications workshop leader. My business, WordsWorking, and my recently published book, Talk to Me Like I’m a Human, focus on improving workplace communications, concentrating on the fundamentals of human interactions. I developed, write about and train on the concept of REAL Communications, encouraging others to communicate with Respect and Empathy, paying close Attention and Listening with intent. I can be reached at pat@words-working.net.