History of The Mill


In 1902, curious crowds from all around made their way to the tiny city of Starkville, Mississippi to get their first glimpse of electric lights. While workers inside produced high-quality fabric through the night, onlookers gazed in awe at the brand new cotton mill, unaware that this stunning display of technology would usher their small town into a new century of progress. Production and economic success from the mill put Starkville on the map while statewide industry proved Mississippi was capable of great feats.

Fast-forward to 2015, nearly 50 years after the last thread of “Starkville Chambray” was produced, and The Mill at MSU reopened with the same excitement and promise as more than 100 years before. Peruse our full timeline for our historic tale.

The Timeline


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: a tiny dot on the map that was unaware of the journey it had just begun.



Few things were as important to the cotton mill and to the city as the moment J.W. Sanders decided to buy Starkville’s mill and make it part of Sanders Industries. Under his guidance, the mill became one of the most successful of its kind across the country and was an economic driver in both the city and the state. The Sanders family proved to be among Mississippi’s most powerful and influential groups.


After over a decade of success, Sanders made the decision to expand the cotton mill and increase 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 them one of the largest providers in the United States.



Following his father’s passing, then-G.M. 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 made from the Starkville Chambray, and it was his campaign, “What Mississippi Makes, Makes Mississippi,” that helped change perceptions of the growing industrial state.



When World War II hit the country, demand for fabric grew to an all-time high. By the time the war concluded, 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 center of town with its own community of houses surrounding the area, complete with a church, hospital, school, weekly meat market and even a fire station run out of the tower seen today at the front of the building.


After 60 years of a mutually beneficial relationship between school and mill, Mississippi State University bought the recently-closed cotton mill and re-named it the Cooley Building, home to the school’s physical plant. For decades MSU had been a pipeline of trained workers for the mill, making it fitting for the university to save the building and keep it intact for its soon-to-be-realized future.


Over a century after the cotton mill first opened in Boardtown, The Mill re-opened in Starkville to once again take its place as the city’s economic hub, a center of commerce and community re-shaping the town and ushering it onward just like it did 100 years before. The cotton mill then and The Mill at MSU now both represent a gateway to the university and a bridge to the community.


The Mill is located in Starkville, Mississippi, and it is conveniently situated in the midst of the city’s retail and business community – close to Main Street, Highway 12, and Highway 182. The Mill is also within walking distance of Mississippi State University, the state’s largest university.