The Leigh Banan a Case Company (LBC) was founded in 1905 by Charles Q. C. Leigh. A produce merchant in Paducah, Kentucky, Charles saw a need for a standard container that could hold an entire bunch of bananas. He later patented a wood-veneer slatted crate, which he called a case. It was initially to be used by produce merchants in packing bananas, and from 1905 to 1930, the LBC had almost a complete monopoly on the manufacture of the banana case. However, sales on banana cases started to decline in 1930.
In 1920, the company had been reorganized and Carl G. Leigh, a son of Charles, became president of the LBC and Charles became chairman of the board. Working together in the 1930s, Carl and Charles began to expand the LBC and produce other kinds of fruit and vegetable containers. One was an oval shaped crate, or basket, known as the Leigh-Way hamper, but it was only produced for a short time. After Charles Q. C. Leigh died in 1936, Carl continued as president of the company. In the 1940s, the LBC began to make an even larger variety of containers, including bushel and half-bushel baskets as well as twenty different sizes of wire-bound crates for fruit and vegetable distributors. The LBC was a tremendous operation, and was actually considered to be the largest manufacturing plant in the world in what was called the basket and the box. The company had approximately fifty-two assembly plants all over the United States and it annually produced an average of more than five million containers. This, of course, required an enormous amount of timber.
In 1926, the LBC moved down to the Savannah River Valley from Chicago, Illinois, because there was a good supply of hardwoods, especially cypress and sweet gum, in the swamps around Ellenton. The plant was established about three miles from Ellenton on the Four-Mile Creek near the Savannah River and was an immense operation. It had its own train system and two of its own locomotives, named Pedro and Toro, that went down into the swamps of the Savannah River to bring out load after load of freshly cut pine, gum, and cypress logs. An average of about five million feet of timber a year was cut by the plant alone. The LBC also bought timber from local contractors, such as Leroy Simpkins, who used his two riverboats to push barges of timber up and down the Savannah River to be unloaded and carried by truck to the LBC. In 1938, H. J. Linder, Senior became Vice-President and General Manager of the LBC and the plant began to expand even more. In 1943, he introduced the wire- bound crate, which was very easy to assemble. In the 1940s, the plant would employ approximately 350 people during peak time, which was in the spring, because one of the company’s big accounts was the peach business.
The town of Leigh was born when the LBC decided to provide homes for its’ employees. These homes ranged from three rooms for regular employees to eight rooms for the superintendent of the plant. The LBC also generated its own electricity for the factory and employee homes, and ran pipes to the homes to provide their employees with running water. All of these utilities were free. In addition, a church for all denominations, a hotel, and a general store (commissary) were built in Leigh by the LBC.
In 1952, with the coming of the Savannah River Plant, the LBC was abandoned. Carl Leigh wanted to continue the operation, but a suitable supply of timber could not be found to justify moving the plant. Therefore, it just went out of business. Linder stayed and sold all the equipment and scrap metal, and some of the buildings were bought and moved. Everything else was left. It has long been rumored that the two locomotives were dumped somewhere in the swamp, but to this day have never been found.
Below is a copy of an article from the 1954 Augusta Chronicle about the removal of the Leigh Banana Case Company buildings.
Text of the Article:
Workers watch as the former office 3 building of the Leigh Banana Crate company located at now defunct Ellenton is moved to the Meyers Mill Church, a mission of the First Baptist Church of Barnwell, to serve as a Sunday School building. Both the Leigh Banana Crate company and the original Meyers Mill Church were in the now restricted area of the Savannah River Plant of the Atomic Energy Commission. The church was moved to the Barnwell area and kept its original name on agreement with former members who contributed $1,000 for its moving expenses. The new building will add approximately 2,300 feet of floor space to the church plant. The Rev. P. H. Hughes, pastor, and J. B. Grubbs, building committee chairman, were on hand to “supervise” the moving job. (Photo by Monarch)