Overview and History


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 16,000. 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.

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, includes a canoe and kayak launch, dock suitable for fishing, and an outdoor fire pit. The park provides access via Sturgeon Creek 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 one of the closest publicly accessible access points.


Development of the areas surrounding Leland began in the early 1900s. Bolivia, Belville, Winnabow and Supply started as small outposts near the newly constructed railroad that ran from Navassa to Southport. Located on rich timberland, the towns hoped to become centers for lumber manufacturing. However, the abundance of timber came in second to the excitement over the rich, fertile soils that were perfect for tobacco growth. Prior to the establishment of the towns, local tobacco farmers had to travel long distances in order to sell their products. With the incorporation of new, nearby towns, the tobacco farmers would be able to stay in the immediate region and less traveling time meant more time for production. It was anticipated that Brunswick County would become the largest tobacco-growing county in the state, and it did in fact become a very large producer.

The towns began simply, consisting of usually only a small handful of general convenience stores and such establishments as turpentine distilleries, sawmills and cotton gins. Supply was the most active trade center of all the neighboring towns, and in 1920 was in the running to become the county seat along with Bolivia and Southport. Bolivia initially won with the majority vote, but an enraged Southport took the claim to court on the grounds that the winner should have to contain a majority of the entire population. The courts ruled in Southport’s favor. Although this was a blow to Bolivia, people still continued to stream in, and by the end of the 1920s all of the neighboring towns were booming.


Though located only 5 miles west of Wilmington, Navassa is in Brunswick County and sits at the confluence of the Brunswick and the Northwest Cape Fear rivers. Incorporated in 1977, Navassa takes its name from Navassa Island in the West Indies and the Navassa Guano Factory that was built in Brunswick County in 1869. This factory provided employment in northern Brunswick County for more than 100 years. With a population of more than 1,500, Navassa continues to grow, along with the rest of Brunswick County. Its convenient location offers easy access to New Hanover and Brunswick County beaches, shopping areas and entertainment. Community parks include Navassa Ball Park with two gazebos, a grilling area, a basketball court and two tennis courts; the park and picnic area located next to the town hall; and Davis Creek Park with a walkway, piers, docks, a concrete boat ramp and a gazebo. In 2009, thanks to a matching grant from the N.C. Department of Natural Resources' Division of Coastal Management, improvements, including enhancements to the boat ramp and parking area, have been made in this park.

In 2010 The Town of Navassa received a grant of $750,000.00 which it used in combination with earlier grants of $300,000.00 to construct a Senior/Community Center. The 16,000 square-foot center includes a Senior Center, a youth Center, multi-purpose rooms and a Cultural center or library. It serves as an emergency shelter as well. In addition, an $850,000 Community Block Grant is being used to rehabilitate homes and infrastructure in neighborhoods where the need exists. Because the direction of growth in the town includes the influx of new industries, the town hired its first town manager in 2007 to oversee and plan for the expansion with positive results for the community.

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