Skip to main content
The Official Web Site of the State of South Carolina

William States Lee, II | 2023 Hall of Fame

William States Lee, II

Born in Lancaster, South Carolina in 1872, William States Lee, II (also called Jr.) moved with his family to Anderson by 1884. He attended The Citadel between 1890 and 1894, earning a degree in Civil Engineering. Per the terms of his scholarship, Lee returned to Anderson and taught for two years after graduation before being hired by William Whitner as resident engineer at Portman Shoals Hydroelectric Plant in 1896.

W. S. Lee’s work at Portman was interrupted by the Spanish-American War, during which he designed fortifications along the Carolina coast with the US Engineering Department. Later in 1898, he returned to engineering work at the Columbus Power Company on the Chattahoochee River. While in Columbus, Georgia, Lee met Mary Martin whom he would marry in 1901. They had three children: William States Lee, III, Martha Lee, and Martin Lee.

W. S. Lee’s successes led to his being named the chief engineer and vice president over construction of the Catawba hydro plant in 1903. The following year marked a pivotal point in his life and career. Lee and others met with James Duke at his home for talks that would result in the founding of Southern Power Company in 1905. Lee served as Chief Engineer and General Manager in the Charlotte based company which would become Duke Energy.

Even having reached this lofty position, W. S. Lee was not finished bringing innovation back to Anderson County. He had a dream of establishing electrically powered inter-urban rail lines throughout the South. Lee and James Duke partnered to pitch the idea, resulting in the 1911 charter of the Piedmont & Northern Railway. The line encompassed 160 miles of track in North and South Carolina. Duke himself served as president until 1920, succeeded by W. S. Lee from 1921 to 1934.

Lee was a leader in his field holding offices including president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and president of the American Engineering Council, and serving as a member of the American Electro-Chemical Society, American Societies of Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, and a fellow of the Engineering Institute of Canada. Davidson College bestowed on Lee an honorary Doctorate of Science in 1929 and The Citadel awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws in 1932. 

William States Lee visited Anderson often where his parents were buried at Silver Brook Cemetery. Lee passed away at his home in Charlotte in 1934 and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery, Mecklenburg County, NC. His wife would be buried there with him after her passing in 1969.