To some, Leasburg, North Carolina, is just a place on Highway 158 between Yanceyville and Roxboro. To others it is much more. It is a state of mind, affectionately called Sweet Leasburg. While the little village is indeed located almost mid-way between Yanceyville and Roxboro, it has a longer history than either of those towns.
The history of Leasburg began with the history of Caswell County. When Caswell County was created in 1777, the area to become Leasburg was selected as the county seat and the location of the first Caswell County courthouse. However, partially due to other pressing matters, including the Revolutionary War, no courthouse was constructed until 1784. As the area around the courthouse began to develop, the need for a formally incorporated town was recognized, and Leasburg was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1788.
Leasburg, as an incorporated town, was the county seat of Caswell County for only four years. In 1792, Person County was created from the eastern half of Caswell County. Leasburg remained in Caswell County, but only barely so. It now was situated very near the Person County line and would no longer be convenient as the county seat of the new Caswell County. This resulted in the county seat being moved to the geographic center of Caswell County, an area first called Caswell Court House, which became Yanceyville. The courthouse, public lots, and other governmental property in Leasburg were disposed of at public sale. As a result of its location, Leasburg often has had closer ties with Person County than with Caswell County. The famous Lea Chapel, closely associated with Leasburg families, is located in Person County.
While no longer the county seat, Leasburg continued to develop. Bartlett Yancey, Jr., is his famous 1810 observations on Caswell County noted that Leasburg had one store, a grocery shop, a saddler's shop, a cabinetmaker's shop, and ten or twelve houses. The town produced such notables as Solomon Lea (1807-1897), first president of Greensboro College, and Jacob Thompson (1810-1885), Secretary of the Interior under President James Buchanan. Leasburg produced two well-respected academies: the Leasburg Male Academy; and the Somerville Institute. And, in 1861 the Leasburg Grays, sixty-seven strong, marched to war.
Leasburg shared in the antebellum prosperity of the 1830-1861 Boom Era in Caswell County. It was a regional center of education, had a number of mills and tobacco factories, a race track, taverns, a tannery, a tailor, a carriagemaker, cotton gins, a brickyard, and substantial trade based upon the tobacco economy of the surrounding area. Many fine homes were built by the wealthy businessmen and land owners. However, like all of Caswell County, Leasburg, was devastated by the Civil War. Like Yanceyville, it had no geographical reason for being, not having a railroad, a major stream, or roads of any regional significance.
Competition from nearby Durham doomed Leasburg's tobacco factories, and its best and brightest departed for opportunities elsewhere. Sweet Leasburg, no longer was a trading center, reverting to a small sleepy Southern town, but one with a proud history. The feeling for Leasburg is captured in the following stanza from a poem written by Miss Wilhelmina Lea (1843-1936), daughter of Solomon Lea:
I love this village 'mong the hills-
My good fore fathers' home-
And oh, I'm never satisfied,
When far from it I roam.
I yearn so for familiar sights,
I can't contented be,
Until I get back home again,
These hills once more to see.
Alexander R. Foushee was a keen observer of people and events in and around Roxboro, including Leasburg where he attended school. The following is from his Reminiscences: A Sketch and Letters Descriptive of Life in Person County in Former Days (1921) at 50-52. This was a collection of his letters to the editor of the Roxboro Courier.
In this letter I shall give a list of the school teachers of my early years.
My first teacher was Mr. James O. Bradsher, my next was Major Burnel Russell, next in order were William Whitfield, Franklin Yeallock, Moore W. Dollahite, James R. Foushee, my oldest brother, and Col. Henry A. Rogers. Colonel Rogers taught the last school which I attended. This was in 1859, in the old brick Academy in Leasburg, near the town cemetery. Colonel Rogers had quite a large school of boys and young men, who taxed his time and patience to a high degree, as he had a house full and no assistant in the work. I can't, at this late day, see how he managed to get through it so well, giving general satisfaction to the boys and patrons of the school. Of all this crowd of boys who attended the school, there are but three or four now living that I am aware of. One of this number is my friend C. M. G. Wagstaff, of the Concord section of this county (died since letter was written).
I remember that old Mr. William Lea had a fine orchard of apples near the Academy to which the boys gave special attention; we appropriated our full share of fruit without "leave or license."
Leasburg then had a population of 300 or 350 including two schools, who were as good people as could be found anywhere. Situated near the Person line most of the families living there were either from Person county or closely related by marriage or other ties to the Person people. The school patronage was largely from this county. For a town of its size, it had a large trade, having several stores of good size for that day, run by popular merchants; it had also wood shops, blacksmith, harness and saddle shops, a hotel, a tailor shop, a shoe shop, a picture gallery, tan yard, besides the two large schools.
Leasburg produced many men of note, among them was Hon. Jacob Thompson, member of President Buchanan's cabinet, also of President Davis' cabinet of the Confederate States. It was claimed by some people that in surveying the line between Caswell and Person for a division, Leasburg ought to have been given to Person county by right.
. . . .Roxboro, N.C.
See Leasburg Architecture for a photographic sampling of the 19th-century buildings of Leasburg.