In the mid 1890’s at the crossroads where the Village Road crossed the Wilmington, Columbia, and Augusta Railroad (on the way towards Summerville and Phoenix) there existed a settlement. The name of this settlement became formalized when, in late 1897, Mr. Joseph W. Gay and other area citizens petitioned the U.S. Post Office Department in Washington D.C., for a local Post Office. A list of three names was submitted at this time so that the Post Office Department might have a name from which to choose. The name of Leland was chosen. Leland was the name of Mr. Gay’s nephew, Leland Adams. The new Post Office opened on February 10, 1898, with Mr. Joseph Gay as Postmaster. The Post Office was located in a corner of Gay’s General Store.
The Leland area was initially settled at the same time 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, Leland Methodist Church and numerous homes. For many years Leland was one of numerous small unincorporated communities throughout Brunswick Country which served as minor centers of trade throughout the early 20th century.
Due to its location adjacent to the Brunswick River, Leland also served as an early transportation center. By modern standards the early roads in the area were primitive. There were ferries in place across the Brunswick River and across the Cape Fear River for travelers going north and south. The Brunswick River actually received a bridge in 1890 before the Cape Fear River. The Brunswick River Causeway, across Eagles Island, was always known as a problem area because of the wetness of the soil and swamps between the two rivers. By 1923 the road from the Brunswick River through Leland had been hard surfaced and was known as State Road 20. Two churches (Woodburn Presbyterian and Woodburn Baptist) were named after the Woodburn family, which was a later subdivision of the Belvedere Plantation (home of William Dry and Governor Benjamin Smith). The Belvedere subdivision forms the nucleus of what is now the incorporated Town of Leland.
The Town of Leland was incorporated in 1989. Each year the Town celebrates its incorporation with the Founders' Day celebration on the second Saturday of September.