The Mill Information
In the early days of the cotton mill, people came from all over, not for the high-grade fabric being produced, but to catch a glimpse of something they’d never seen—electricity. The lights of the mill shining each night were symbolic of what the building would come to mean to the city of Starkville and the significant progress it would experience in the coming years.
Originally built in 1902, the mill was later purchased by J.W. Sanders. He and his son Robert are credited with laying the foundation for the Mississippi cotton textile industry through a conglomerate of cotton mills they established and ran across the state in the first half of the twentieth century. Under his guidance, the mill became one of the most successful in the country and was an economic driver in both the city and the state.
After over a decade of success, Sanders expanded the cotton mill and increased production to meet the booming demand for their signature “Starkville Chambray” thread. By the time expansion was complete, the mill was producing the Chambray at a rate of 1.5 million yards annually, making it one of the largest providers in the United States.
Following his father’s passing, then-general manager Robert David Sanders took over Sanders Industries, beginning an even greater expansion in the work and influence of his family’s company. With the younger Sanders at the helm, the company began producing clothing and assorted items from the Starkville Chambray. He launched a publicity campaign, “What Mississippi Makes, Makes Mississippi,” that helped change perceptions of the growing industrial state.
World War II brought an economic boom, and the demand for fabric grew to an all-time high. By the end of the war, the cotton mill was producing 160,000 yards of fabric per week, running 24 hours a day on three eight-hour shifts. The mill had become the town's central hub, surrounded by its own community of houses, as well as a church, hospital, school and grocery. A fire station also operated out of the mill's front tower, which still stands today.
For decades, MSU had been a pipeline of trained workers for the mill, and a meaningful connection was forged between the two units. The cotton mill stopped production in 1964 after scaling back in the early 1950s. However, its significance to the city and Mississippi State enabled the facility to realize a new future. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and, more than a century after its opening, the mill underwent major renovations to serve the community in a new way.
Now, as home to MSU’s Division of Development and Alumni, the historic building remains a vital and steadfast part of the university fabric. An enduring structure that has served a variety of purposes and people over the years, The Mill at MSU is a testament to how far we’ve come and a promise of greater success ahead.