Although separated by only a narrow strip of land, the two towns nevertheless developed distinct identities.
(Lexington County; 2020 pop. 5,402). Before consolidating in 1993, Batesburg and Leesville were “friendly but separate Twins” that grew up back-to-back in the extreme western section of Lexington County. Located on the “Ridge” separating the Saluda and Edisto River basins, the towns originated on Native American trading paths that became early roads from Augusta to Columbia and from the coast to the upcountry. The crossroads soon sprouted a handful of taverns and stage stops, including one that tradition holds entertained President George Washington during a visit in 1791. In 1869 the Charlotte, Columbia, and Augusta Railroad laid tracks through the villages and established a depot in each. Leesville was incorporated on February 23, 1875, and Batesburg on May 31, 1877.
Although separated by only a narrow strip of land, the two towns nevertheless developed distinct identities. Batesburg faced west and served as a market and distribution center for Ridge farmers in Edgefield, Aiken, and Saluda Counties. Facing east, Leesville serviced the Sandhills of western Lexington County. The sawmill in Batesburg produced building lumber, while that in Leesville cut railroad crossties. Even the religious makeup of the towns differed: Batesburg was mainly Baptist, while Lutherans predominated in Leesville, although Methodists were well represented in both towns. In the 1880s Leesville became a college town when the Leesville English and Classical Institute opened. Later redesignated Leesville College, the coeducational school was fully accredited to grant both bachelor’s and master’s degrees before closing in 1910. The progressive institution was the first in the state to teach physical education to girls. When the college closed, many of its faculty and students transferred to Newberry College. While Leesville became a center of education, Batesburg enhanced its commercial and industrial standing. By 1900 Batesburg had thirty-three stores, a bank, and a cotton factory: Middleburg Mills.
The move toward a merger of the towns began in the 1920s with the construction of a consolidated high school. The Batesburg-Leesville Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1946, and in the 1970s Batesburg annexed the land dividing the towns. A difficult economy in the 1980s sparked the final push, as civic and business leaders sought to streamline local government services and strengthen the tax base. In January 1992 voters passed a referendum to consolidate Batesburg and Leesville, and the merger was completed by the end of the following year.
Entering the twenty-first century, Batesburg-Leesville contained three historic districts, two business districts, a central shopping center, and two regionally famous barbecue restaurants (Shealy’s and Hite’s). Each May, Batesburg-Leesville hosts the South Carolina Poultry Festival, which draws thousands of visitors to the Twin Cities. Many denominations sustain the religious life of the town, while the Ridge Arts Council, the Ridge Chorus, and the Batesburg-Leesville Historical Society support cultural activities. Despite changes, Batesburg-Leesville has preserved enough of its heritage to retain much of its rural character and charm.
Batesburg-Leesville Chamber of Commerce. Batesburg-Leesville Area History. Shawnee Mission, Kans.: Inter-Collegiate Press, [1982?].
“Batesburg-Leesville Consolidation Complete.” Columbia State, December 9, 1993, p. B1.