Topsail Island Pioneers

by | Jan 24, 2024 | Online Exclusives, Partners, Real Estate

With Ward Realty celebrating 77 years in business, David Ward recalls the beginnings of his father’s real estate ventures on Topsail Island.

David Ward remembers the day of his first boat ride, the same day he ate potato chips for the first time. He was 4 years old, and he traveled with his father, A.H. Ward, to visit Topsail Island.

“That was 1947,” David recalls. “Ed Yow introduced my father to Topsail.”

David also remembers getting kicked off the island by military police because Operation Bumblebee was still underway.

“At that time, you had to get a permit to visit the island,” he explains. “The military leased the island for Operation Bumblebee, but they were in demo mode. Daddy came to the island with an eye to develop.”

Operation Bumblebee ended on Topsail Island in 1948.

A.H. Ward owned and operated Standard Realty & Construction in Wilmington. He saw potential on beautiful Topsail Island, and he purchased some property. He moved a military barracks, divided it and restructured it into four cottages.

Father Son Ward

“Daddy offered his first cottages for sale around 1948,” David says, adding that his company’s first office was a part of a former barracks.

A.H. Ward was one of the principal designers of the layout of a subdivision called Surf City. In 1949 Surf City Subdivision One was laid out. The foundation of the Town of Surf City was underway, and the town was incorporated that same year.

In 1952 A.H. Ward changed the name of the family company to Ward Realty Corporation, a company that was responsible for the development of much of Topsail Island. They built a total of 19 subdivisions and built approximately 100 cottages through the years. The company also built a shopping center on the corner of Roland Avenue that housed a grocery store, a hardware store and boutiques.

A.H. Ward served as the mayor of Surf City. He was the mayor in 1954, when Hurricane Hazel hit the island.

“I remember 15 houses floating in the sound and marshes,” David says. “One house was picked up and set down across the road and the furniture was still in place.”

David’s memories of those early days include working at the family’s grocery store on Topsail Island, picking up bullets found on the beach from the military’s former target range and swimming when he was not working.

“I worked in the grocery store from the age of 12,” David say. “I swam one day that entire summer.”

The Ward family worked to create subdivisions such as Del Mar Beach, Grady-Moore Beach, White Hills Beach, Buccaneer Beach, Pirates Cove and Channelbend.

David graduated with a degree in architecture from N.C. State in 1974.

“My brother and I designed and built each house in Channelbend,” he says. “Every home is different.”

Ward Realty Topsail Island NC

David remembers alternating designs on one home four times to preserve a tree, adding that he was proud of the finished product.

In 1957 Ward Realty entered the vacation rental market. The company was one of the first vacation agencies in the nation to have a computer-run accounting and reservations system. David collaborated with Software Dynamics to create one of the first full-service rental software programs in the country. It was called Resort Manager System. Ward Realty now offers a selection of more than 300 rental properties.

“We’re renting to the grandchildren of our first renters,” David says.

Today, Ward Realty is a full-service company, offering sales, rentals and property management.

“Honesty and integrity are important to us as a company,” David says of the company’s growth and longevity. “We have 24 employees, and we treat everyone like family.”

David’s son, Brandon, has taken over the reins of the company; however, David still works at Ward Realty. “I’m not very good at retirement,” he says.

In 2024, when the Town of Surf City celebrates its 75th anniversary of incorporation, Ward Realty will celebrate 77 years of service to Surf City and the entirety of Topsail Island.

“I often look around and I wonder, ‘What would Dad think?’” David says.

Surely, A.H. Ward, who passed away in 2000, would be proud of the company that has grown and prospered and is celebrating three generations of leadership in the real estate industry.

Learn more:
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About the author

Topsail Magazine Contributor

Topsail Magazine Contributor