“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
History isn’t just words on the page of a textbook. It comes alive in North Carolina. And now, you can spend the night in a piece of history.
Originally built in 1947 by the U.S. Navy, this stunning home was first used for Operation Bumblebee. There were eight original missile towers. Only two are available to for vacationers to rent. And this is one of them.
The operation began in secret, but the U.S. Navy eventually gave the public the inside scoop. They sent out a press release to inform residents about the amazing rocket tests. They had already been testing and developing supersonic guided missiles for months.
The supersonic flights we have today were made possible through the controlled ramjet engine. These engines were tested and checked at the Operation Bumblebee towers.
One day in 1998, a Southern entrepreneur was cruising down Topsail Island’s South Shore Drive with his real estate agent. They were looking for the perfect piece of oceanfront real estate. The agent casually pointed out Tower Four, which had been on the market for a while. John West dismissed the idea quickly because it would take so much work, but the seed was planted.
Through the following weeks, John West couldn’t shake the thought. Turning Tower Four as a vacation rental would take an incredible amount of work. The lot was overgrown with shrubs and vines. The pillars and ceilings of the tower were still standing strong. Hurricane Hazel had destroyed so much of Topsail Island in 1954, but the tower remained, unfazed by 100+ mph winds.
Best of all, the location was fantastic. Oceanfront. Near the Surf City Swing Bridge. Breathtaking views. Close to Surf City and Hampstead. Wilmington was just a short drive away. It had it all. Except walls of course. But those could be built.
The history buff with a strong work ethic couldn’t ignore the captivating historical significance of the missile tower. This was just the sort of project to merge his passion for history with his love for Topsail Island.
A local guy, John West had moved inland for his career, but he couldn’t get the sound of the ocean out of his mind.
“You get Topsail in your bloodstream and it’s hard to get out. It’s just the best place to be,” John West explained. “It was the childhood family memories of Topsail Island that brought me back.”
John West set to work and quickly discovered the many challenges that would come with the investment. Turning a neglected piece of history into a relaxing vacation home was no easy task. Especially with the task of preserving the remaining elements and the look of the missile tower that once was.
The walls were long gone, but the corner pillars and ceilings were solid. Imagine installing light fixtures and such into a rock. A very tall, very solid rock. A rock full of rebar and chunks of granite.
“From day one, it was a difficult process. Projects like these always takes more time than planned and things come up that you never would anticipate,” he recalled.
But it was all worth it.
Among the pastel, siding covered beach retreats, Tower Four is easy to spot.
Deep brick red colored stucco.
Swaying palm trees.
Crisp, white trim that highlights the elevation and shape of the missile tower pillars.
And tall. It is so tall!
The integrity of the original silhouette was maintained handsomely, even through the incredible transformation.
The side entrance deposits you into a dining room. There are chairs and a table and everything, I promise….
But you won’t see them!
Because the jaw dropping view of the Atlantic Ocean will overwhelm all your senses.
Floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows span across all three walls. The sound of crashing waves and the soul-quenching hum of the ocean plays in the room like sweet background music.
Enormous decks create a space to breath in the salty ocean air. A private beach entrance will lead you directly onto the sand. And at the end of a surf, tan, and sandcastle filled day, you can rinse the sea and sand away in a private, outdoor bathroom, complete with a bathtub and shower.
Sharing the dining room views, the living room and kitchen are equipped with everything you need to make yourself at home for a week. Near the kitchen is a vertical, spiral staircase, made of wood and iron.
Just like the original missile tower, the footprint of this dream vacation rental near Wilmington is vertical. That doesn’t leave space for traditional staircases, and the creativity John West employed to that challenge makes for a one-of-a-kind experience.
If the spiral stairs are too much for you to navigate, there is a second, wider entrance through a traditional staircase from the deck outside.
At the top of stairs is the master bedroom with all the amenities one would expect from a vacation home, like a king size bed, Jacuzzi tub and towel warmers. The ocean will beckon you through the glass doors and onto the deck.
The history buffs in the group will want to scale right up the captain’s ladder that’s perched near the window in the master bedroom. It leads to an enticing little cupola at the top of the tower. On the floor is an original brass stamp that reads, “1947 – Tower Four.”
Glass panes embedded in the ceiling for stargazing create an unforgettable space.
From an old missile tower without walls, Tower Four has been transformed to a delightful three bedroom, three bathroom, oceanfront vacation home.
Beach lovers, surfers, paddle boarders, and those who love an ocean sunrise will argue that the location is the most exciting feature, while those with a passion for antiquity will argue the structure itself is the most exciting aspect.
…Continued from Part One by Kim Barry
This is the point at which I want to interrupt my story to explain what I wish I had done prior to the storm in preparation. Because I think it could be helpful to some people.
First of all…..fun fact….tropical storms wreck havoc on anything below sea level.
Houstonians just learned this (many of whom didn’t have flood insurance); New Orleans learned it when the levees broke, and I learned it when my neighborhood got washed out. It *almost* doesn’t matter how far away from the ocean you live when a tropical storm hits you, if your home/town is below sea level. The rain doesn’t stop, rivers overflow, and before you know it the streets are underwater. So, if you live in a low-lying area and a tropical storm is threatening, just pack up your stuff and be safe.
Given the current damage wreaked by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the approach of Hurricane Irma from the Atlantic Ocean, and the peak hurricane season, it occurred to my friend Rachel that a blog post on this topic might be timely and helpful for others in creating their storm prep plans.
But first, my Hurricane Sandy story:
My house was located in Highlands, New Jersey, a tiny shore town in Monmouth County not far from where the Lower New York Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.