The Leland area was initially settled at the same time that the earliest plantations along the Cape Fear and Brunswick rivers came into existence. Early activity revolved around the post office, the school, two grocery stores, the railroad station, Leland Baptist Church and Leland Methodist Church. For many years Leland was one of numerous small unincorporated communities throughout Brunswick County that served as minor centers of trade throughout the early twentieth century. Due to its location adjacent to the Brunswick River, Leland served as a transportation center, though by modern standards the early roads were primitive. Ferries were in use as the means of crossing the Brunswick and the Cape Fear rivers for travelers going north and south. A bridge was built over the Brunswick River in 1890 before one was built over the Cape Fear River.
The natural boundaries of the Town of Leland include the Brunswick River to the east and Sturgeon Creek to the south, siting it just five minutes west of Wilmington. Leland has emerged as one of the fastest growing communities in southeastern North Carolina and is the centerpiece of northern Brunswick County’s continuing economic expansion. Its strategic location offers convenient access to Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, the coastal town of Southport, and the New Hanover and Brunswick County beaches.
Leland was first incorporated in 1989 with a population of approximately 1,800. Steady growth over the years has brought the population to more than 15,000, which is more than double that of Oak Island, the longtime forerunner in population in the county. Expansion includes the development of retail centers that house national chain stores as well as mixed use developments along U.S. Highway 17 South, requiring the reconfiguration of the highway in the area and the addition of a string of traffic lights. Leland is poised for even greater growth in the years to come. In late 2004 the town doubled its geographic size by completing the voluntary annexation of a 4,900-acre tract commonly known as Brunswick Forest. The build-out of this property should result in an additional 10,000 residential units. When a planned U.S. 17 bypass is completed, Leland will be directly accessible from I-40 without the current inconvenience of passing through Wilmington.
The Town of Leland has completed the first phase of the Sturgeon Creek Environmental Education Park. This park, made possible by a grant from the NC Department of Environmental and Natural Resources' Division of Coastal Management water access program, will include public parking, canoe and kayak launch, dock suitable for fishing, an outdoor classroom and the conversion of an existing building into an environmental education center. The park will provide access to Eagles Island, which groups have been working to designate and protect as a natural conservation area. Twelve endangered species exist within Sturgeon Creek and Eagles Island, and this park provides unprecedented access to the area.