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Local History
Town of Holly Ridge
     & Camp Davis


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    The tiny town of Holly Ridge, North Carolina was staggering with feverish activity as an Army Camp was created 50 years ago. This stampede of growth became "Boomtown" for several years then was deserted as suddenly as it started.

    Shortly before World War II, the military came to the Topsail region to build Camp Davis, an anti-aircraft, artillery training base at Holly Ridge. Camp Lejeune was also under construction at the time. (The base recently acquired much of the now vacant Camp Davis property.)

    Camp Davis was an uproar to Holly Ride. It had a life of many changes; first preparing troops for war, later serving as a separation center, and finally as a base for early development of missiles for our nation's space program.

    Camp Davis was erected within five months. The contract was let December 10, 1940, and the first cadre arrived in April, 1941. Incredibly, a Holly Ridge population of 28 people exploded into gold rush-like growth in 1940. The peak of 110,000 people was reached in 1943 and a census revealed 486 people in 1980. The War Department commandeered 46,683 acres of land for this reservation over the years 1941 through 1948. This comprised 119 tracts of land, owned by local residents, including Topsail Island, then known as Sears Landing or the "sand spit." Topsail Island was leased for a target range and for beach recreation. Camp Davis became "home" to various military units. Coast Artillery Anti-aircraft regiments were the dominant force moving thousands of recruits through basic training and anti-aircraft weaponry. Officer Candidate Schools trained hundreds of officers for troop leadership.

    The first Barrage Balloon Training Center was formed at Camp Davis. This camp had the distinction of being the only post having three principle elements, anti-aircraft, seacoast defense, and barrage balloon, under one command. One year later, the Barrage Balloon Training Center transferred.

    Anti-aircraft training continued at a fevered pitch from April, 1941 through September, 1944, when the operation was closed and transferred to another base. After the war, the Camp Davis command was assumed by the Marine Corps for training of marines, and for several months as a separation center.

    Camp Davis sprang to life again when the navy took charge June 1, 1946. It became the base for "Operation Bumblebee," a secret guided missile testing program for the US Navy. They operated a scaled-down version of the camp since they only had 500 to house.

    The Navy Bureau of Ordnance and John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory had undertaken another building "binge" including camera towers, roads, buildings, and a revised pontoon bridge for a missile test facility on Topsail Island. On this 26 mile beach test range, some 200 experimental rockets were fired from 1947 to 1948.

    Through these tests, the ramjet engine was proved to be a success. Modern jet aircraft engines have built upon this original design. The Navy Bureau of Ordnance then closed down activities in 1948, parceling out the rocketry programs to Inyokern, White Sands, and Cape Canaveral. Camp Davis was declared surplus and was dismantled to salvage and to be sold. The leased land was to be returned to the original landowners, some of which include some buildings. Thus ended Camp Davis, which over time has decayed to what you see today, excepting the spark that keeps the memories alive.

    The Camp Davis Restaurant carries on as a harbor for various memorabilia, including pictures and old camp newspapers among other things. A steady trickle of visiting former "Davisites" stop in at the restaurant to see what remains and to reminisce about the Camp Davis heyday.

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Last Revised: November 21, 2008 07:20 PM.

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