By 1880 economic activities were beginning to return to their prewar levels. Although corn continued as the county's most abundant crop, cotton was becoming the most profitable and helped supply the state's growing textile industry. Other industries emerged or expanded within the county to offset the diminishing production of naval stores: lumbering was the most significant, with second-growth loblolly pines being the principal target for exploitation. Livestock raising and commercial fishing increased as grist- and sawmilling began to dwindle.
The advent of the railroad in 1893, connecting Jacksonville to Wilmington and New Bern, finally initiated meaningful recovery in the region. New York financier Thomas A. McIntyre, who started the lumber industry in Onslow County on a major scale, brought in a railroad, a predecessor to the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL), to facilitate the development of lumbering and other industries. The railroad, a portion of which passed through Camp Lejeune's western edge, also offered new transportation opportunities and provided freight access to distant markets.
At the turn of the century, Jacksonville, the largest town in Onslow County, could count three corn mills, a cotton gin, nine boardinghouses, and a carriage maker’s shop. In 1891, the Wilmington, Onslow, and East Carolina Railroad, which ran from Wilmington to Jacksonville, was completed and began hauling lumber (Watson 1995:94). The population had more than doubled from 170 residents in 1890 to 309 in 1900 (Watson 1995:98).