Jacksonville, North Carolina is located in Onslow County. Originally settled in the early 1700s, its proximity to the tributaries of the New River made it a production center for naval stores, as well as for lumber and tobacco.
The area has evolved into a young community, with the median age for city residents at around 23 years of age. Jacksonville is a growing community as well, with the 2010 census figures showing the population at 70,145. Currently, the estimated actual population of Jacksonville is 81,612, according to the City’s official website.
Forbes magazine took notice of Jacksonville in 2014, naming it No. 3 on its list of the “Fastest Growing Small Cities in the United States.” With miles of nearby river and bay front properties and gorgeous white sand beaches 30 minutes or less from the city center, it’s no wonder the popularity of the greater Jacksonville area continues growing.
In 1939, the area was surveyed and mapped as part of an undertaking by Colonel George W. Gillette of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Along with the Onslow County coastline and the New River, Colonel Gillette surveyed and mapped the area from Fort Monroe, Virginia to Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The effort was driven by the War and Navy Departments decision that they were interested in constructing an amphibious base in the area.
Congress appropriated funds to purchase 100,000 acres of land along the eastern bank of New River, and In 1941, Marine Barracks, New River (which was later renamed Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base) was opened. Today, the Marine Corps Base is one of the city’s top employers, with more than 1,000 employees.
Camp Lejeune isn't the only military base located in Jacksonville, however. Marine Corps Air Station New River, a helicopter and tilt-rotor base, has been in operation since 1943, but its purpose has changed over the years.
Originally used as a small training area, Air Station New River is now a major operational airfield. The Air Station is another major employer in the Jacksonville area, with approximately half of the city’s population living either at the Air Station or Camp Lejeune.
Some of the city’s other large employers are Onslow County Schools and Onslow Memorial Hospital, and Onslow County and Walmart also employ over 1,000 people each.
Jacksonville is known as a green city – and its residents enjoy getting outdoors as often as they can. The military presence is also very important to the area and its residents, well demonstrated when combining these two elements in the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Memorial is dedicated to the men and women who served their country during the Vietnam War and recognizes the contributions from close to 10 million veterans from the five branches of the Armed Forces who served during the conflict.
The Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of the largest in the country, bearing the names of all 55,229 servicemen and women who gave their lives in the Vietnam War. A circle at the end of a name indicates that a service member is either a POW or MIA; the * symbol means they have come home. It’s located at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville along Highway 24, very close to the gateway to the city’s downtown.
Downtown Jacksonville is very welcoming for those who enjoy the outdoors, featuring several parks along Wilson Bay and the New River. There are places to enjoy a walk or ride a bike, along with picnic shelters and public access to the water, with the parks also often hosting local festivals and events.
Riverwalk Crossing and LP Willingham Park are both in the city’s historic district on the New River. A number of annual events and festivals take place there, including National Night Out, Oktoberfest, Winterfest and the New River Festival and Palooza. Check out the live music on the stage or take a stroll along the walkways toward the water.
Wilson Bay Park and Sturgeon City Park are located on the shore of Wilson Bay. The New River flows past and overlooks the bridge that provides access to Camp Lejeune, New River Air Station and Camp Geiger.
Interest in the area is not only driven by its military installations and local employment opportunities – there are some beautiful beaches within a short drive of Jacksonville. When the temperatures start to rise, many locals pack up a picnic basket and head out for a day of sun and sand at one of these great destinations.
Topsail Island has three beaches waiting for you to explore about 15 minutes away by car. Cross two bridges and visit North Topsail Beach, a quiet place to hang out and play volleyball or hunt for shells – or enjoy some ocean fishing off the Jolly Roger Pier at the south end of the island.
Surf City, in the center of the island, is the place to be for surfing or paddle boarding and offers a selection of eclectic restaurants and shops. Don’t forget to take a look around for Blackbeard’s treasure when you visit Topsail Island, too; according to legend, the pirate buried his ill-gotten gains somewhere nearby.
Emerald Isle, about 30 miles to the southeast of Jacksonville, not only offers residents and visitors miles of largely unspoiled beaches, it’s encircled by a lush, green forest. The Bogue Inlet Pier is the perfect spot to try your luck at catching some pompano or flounder, but if the fish aren’t biting, you can enjoy fresh, locally caught seafood at one of the local restaurants. Tours are also available for visiting the historical lighthouse, Cape Lookout, where you can go on a shell hunt, climb to the top of the lighthouse to look for ships or simply try to catch a glimpse or two of the wild horses on the beach.