The History and Timeline of Leland, NC

by Nov 8, 2016Across the Cape Fear, Brunswick County, North Brunswick

A few weeks ago I decided, as a private citizen, to attend the Town of Leland’s tour “Leland We Don’t Know.” I felt that even after over a year here, I still didn’t know much about what occurred on the land under my feet centuries ago. I spend a lot of time immersed in Leland’s future, but what about its past?

Snuggled up on a comfortable mini-bus, the Mayor talked me and my touring colleagues through Leland. My prized possession from the afternoon, though, was the brochure featuring the timeline of Leland.

Did you know, for example, that Leland was just incorporated in 1989? We are so young! Did you know that Smith, owner of Belvedere Plantation, was a great friend of George Washington’s and it is believed that Washington ate lunch under an old oak tree down by the River?

Thanks to Town of Leland Parks and Recreation, I get to share with you what we know. Enjoy this look back at Leland’s history (some of it may surprise you)!


1667 – Settlement formed in Charles Town near Old Town Creek by Sir John Yemans, Governor of the Island of Barbados.

1720 – Rice growing by Maurice and Roger Moore in Lower Cape Fear.

1726 – Col. Maurice Moore settles Brunswick Town.

1727 – First ferry over Brunswick River, called the Thoroughfare, at Meares Bluff (now Navassa).

1735 – Newton was renamed Wilmington after the Earl of Wilmington.

1736 – Exports from Brunswick plantations: Tar, turpentine, rice, peas, pork, tallow, beef, whale oil, bees wax, myrtle wax, deer hide, feathers, butter, cheese, millstones.

1740 – Feb. 25, Gov. Johnson moved seat of government from Brunswick Town to Wilmington.

1760 – Col. William Dry established Belvedere Plantation, adjacent to Highway 17, on the bank of the Brunswick River.

Benjamin Smith of Belvedere Plantation

Benjamin Smith, Former Owner of Belvedere Plantation

1764 – First causeway from Wilmington across Eagle Island to Leland area. Finished in 1791.

1781 – January: Wilmington and surrounding area occupied by troops of British Major James Craig.

1781 – November 18, English forces and Tories departed Wilmington after Cornwallis defeat on October 19, 1781.

1791 – April 26, President George Washington dined at Belvedere with his former aide-de-camp, Col. Benjamin Smith.

1810 – Col. Benjamin Smith, owner of Belvedere Plantation, is elected Governor of N. Carolina (1810-1812). He died at Smithville (Southport) in 1826, a virtual pauper.

1816 – Belvedere property purchased by John F. Burgwin.

1860 – The ferry route between Meares Bluff and Wilmington was begun by John A. Taylor.

1873 – Citizens of Brunswick County voted against a bridge across the Brunswick River to the Causeway on Eagle Island.

1889 – J. D. McRae was the owner of Belvedere, growing 20 acres of cabbage.

1890 – First bridge built crossing the Brunswick River to Eagle Island, but not across the Cape Fear River to Wilmington.

1897 – Joseph W. Gay petitioned the U.S. Post Office for a local branch. The name “Leland” was chosen after his nephew, Leland Adams.

1898 – Daniel Russell, owner of the Belvedere property, elected Governor of North Carolina (1897-1901).

oldest house in Leland

The Yellow House in Leland, thought to be the oldest home in Leland (circa 1900)

1923 – State Road #20 (Village Road) hard surfaced.

1928 – The new brick North Brunswick High School at the Crossroads replaced the former wooden structure.Leland High School

1929 – Draw bridges completed over NE & NW branches of the Cape Fear.

1946 – April, National Defense Reserve Fleet (Ghost Fleet) anchored in the Brunswick River. 628 vessels mothballed in the anchorage.

Mac's Home Supply in Leland, NC

Mac’s Home Supply in Leland, NC

1947 – New steel bridge constructed over the Brunswick River to Eagle Island.

1951 – Lincoln Elementary (Primary) School completed near the Crossroads.

The Dairy Dip in Leland

The Dairy Dip in Leland. It became Mr. Frosty’s and now is the home of Pelican’s SnoBalls.

1969 – Cape Fear Memorial Bridge opened. The twin drawbridges built in 1929 continued to operate until removed in 1979.

1977 – A new Brunswick River bridge and bypass highway was opened to traffic. The old Causeway road was completely abandoned.

1978 – The Leland Middle School on Fayetteville Road was completed.

1978 – Leland Shopping Center built on Village Road.

Russel Baldwin of Leland

1989 – Leland incorporated on September 12, with the former McFarland home (1916) becoming the first Town Hall.

McFarland House

The McFarland House

2014 – Downtown Gateway District created utilizing form based zoning.

2015 – 18,000 sq. ft. Cultural Arts Center Opens.

2015 – New 40,000 sq. ft. + Town Hall and Police Headquarters dedicated.


Want to learn more about the Leland, not only its past but its plans for the future? Let the Mayor take you through town on the Leland We Don’t Know tour. The next date is February 15, 2017, with more to be announced. Stay tuned to the Leland Parks & Recreation department page for registration and news.

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