Skip to main content

The rise of industry in Starkville

February 23, 2013

For Starkville Daily News

The first factory in the United States began after George Washington became President. According to U.S., in 1790, Samuel Slater, a cotton spinner's apprentice who left England the year before with the secrets of textile machinery, built a factory from memory to produce spindles of yarn.

America’s first textile college was founded in 1884 as the Philadelphia Textile School providing needed technical education to improve the manufacture and quality of domestic fabrics. Some of the professors at Mississippi A&M College (now Mississippi State University) School of Textile were previously employed there.

Governor Andrew Longino was the first governor of the 20th century known as the “Century of Light,” he warned the people of Mississippi to brace themselves for the enormous changes to come in this new age of technology that could revolutionize the state’s economy and provide thousands of new jobs. It was during Governor Longino’s administration that a textile school was started at Mississippi A & M College in 1900.  It followed North Carolina and Georgia to become the third textile school in the South

Cotton was “king” in the South and a major crop in Mississippi and still brings in almost $598 million of revenue produced each year.

Gilbert L. Oliver reporting in The Reflector said, “Our fathers looked on with a great deal of pride on that bright spring day in May as the cornerstone was swung into place in the textile building which was built at a cost of almost $75,000. It was a two-story brick structure and measured 230x79. It was equipped with steam heat and an automatic fire sprinkler system, a blower and a humidifying system. In addition to being a fine building, the equipment placed in this building was the most modern available, being donated by different manufacturers. The power was furnished by electric motors operating off the power plant. Also, there was a supplementary steam power system.

It was through the untiring efforts of the D.A. Tompkins, who introduced the bill to the legislature to make an appropriation for the School of Textiles. Many others were instrumental in its establishment, but to Mr. Tompkins, most of the credit is given. By 1910, Tompkins had helped build at least 250 cotton oil mills, 150 electric plants and 100 cotton mills. He owned a controlling interest in three newspapers: the Charlotte Daily Observer (formerly the Charlotte Chronicle), Charlotte Evening News and Greenville (S.C.) News. The Observer Printing House, also owned by Tompkins, published many pamphlets and speeches under his name, as well as several books. Tompkins's newspapers and publishing firm served him as mouthpieces in his role as a major spokesman for the industrial New South. His biographer, George T. Winston, said, "Anything, everything, and everybody — all the world — was grist in the voracious Tompkins mill of industrialism. The Atlanta Constitution said of Tompkins, "He perhaps has done more to stimulate the cotton mill development of the South than any living man." The public library in Edgefield, S.C., and the former textile building at North Carolina State University were named for him.

The organization and directorship of the A&M Textile School was assigned to Professor Arthur Whittam, a former Professor of Technology and superintendent of a cotton mill in another town for many years. Assisting him in the department were Professors Abbott and Wier.

During the first year of operation (1901-1902) there were 30 students enrolled in this department. Two courses were offered, consisting of practical and theoretical work; one a special course which might be finished in two years, the other a four year course, to be taken along with other college work. Students might specialize in designing, dyeing and in weaving.

In the spring of 1903 after two years as director and graduating a class of seven, Mr. Whittam resigned directorship and Mr. W.E. Winchester of Philadelphia Textile School was elected.

In the report that year by the president of the college to the Mississippi Legislature, he stated that many more of the students wanted to enroll in the textile school than could be taken care of on account of a lack of facilities. It seems that the school was gaining much popularity and recognition at that time.

Between 1900-1904, there were more cotton mills built in the State of Mississippi than ever before in its entire history. This great increase was attributed to the work of the graduates of the textile school. There were 13 graduates in 1904.

By 1905 with a graduating class of three that year, there had been certain divisions made in courses offered. Yarn manufacture included a study of the processes and machines, picking, carding, combining, drawing, etc. A special two-year course was offered in textile chemistry and dyeing. Students were taught the fundamental principles of hand weaving and then how to operate the power loom.

From 1906 to 1910, Mr. W.R. Meadows served as director of the school. Graduating four in 1906, three in 1907 and one in 1908. The last named date having an enrollment of 45 which was the largest in its history. The school seemed to be growing fast.  In his report that year, Mr. Meadows stated that the school had graduates in mills in every section of the United States.

But in 1909 the enrollment declined to 27, the decrease being attributed to the general decline in the prosperity of the cotton mill business. In 1910, three graduated from the School of Textiles. Mr. Meadows stated in his report that the graduates of the school had been worth several million dollars to the state of Mississippi.

In 1911, Professor J.G. Coman, a former graduate of the college and a graduate of Lowell Textile School was elected director. In 1912 and 1913, there were no graduates.

In his report to the legislature in 1913, the president of the college said that there was very little demand for the work offered in the School of Textiles due to the fact that this type of industry had not proved profitable in Mississippi and recommended that the school be abolished by act of the legislature so that the building might be used for some other purpose, therefore the legislature abolished the Textile School as requested in September 1914.

Most speculate the machinery and equipment of the textile school was loaded onto wagons and carted to the Stone Cotton Mill, which had been built in the shadows of the college in 1902. 

The John M. Stone Cotton Mill, designed by Stewart W. Cramer was named for former governor John Marshall Stone who had been serving as the second president of the college at the time of his death. Stone had been instrumental in the establishment of the Textile School but the connections between its academic training program and the commercial venture represented by the mill extended beyond mere nomenclature. Although the Stone Mill was neither constructed on the campus nor supported with college funds, its early connection with the textile school is undeniable. Arthur Whittam, the first director of the Textile School, resigned his position there to become the first president of the Stone Cotton Mill and the membership of the mill’s founding board of directors consisted almost entirely of men with close ties to the college — J.C. Hardy and R. C. King, the college’s president and secretary, respectively. Directors in Starkville included W.O. Page, W.W. Scales Jr., W.B. Montgomery, R A. Lampkin and W.W. Magruder. Even the builder of the mill, W.T. Christopher of Columbus, was also responsible for a number of the college building projects during the years immediately surrounding the construction of the mill.

The mill name changed from John M. Stone to J.W. Sanders, Sanders, Buck Creek to Starkville Mills and closed in 1962.

As a docent at the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum for many years, I loved to read the old newspapers which contained so much history of our town and county. I jotted notes from which many of the articles I have written were taken. The following information comes from notes pertaining to the cotton mill. 

Mississippi newspapers were filled with reports and the local newspaper contained a “Cotton Mill Column” in the beginning and by 1940s, the weekly newspaper contained a half page section of mill news with a courtesy line, which read, “a contribution toward the advancement of industry in Oktibbeha County and the State of Mississippi.” In 1948, the mill and its people had grown so large employing over 400 people, that they began publishing their own newspaper titled Sanderscope. The mill had an excellent baseball team called the Starkville Semi Pros that played their home games on Duty Noble Field at the college. The winner of the Mrs. America Contest modeled dresses from coast to coast and from New York to Paris annually designed by Sanders Industries. The dresses were made from the fine chambray cloth manufactured at the Starkville mill. Sanders, owner of the mill and a member the college varsity football team in 1916, gave outstanding four-star Jersey bulls for breeding to the college. The mill had a major economic impact not only on the town of Starkville but also on the entire section of the State. It increased profits for other Starkville businesses as well as cotton farmers by purchasing the entire locally grown cotton crops, which were used to make the cloth. The mill had 470 looms and 15,800 spindles that turned about 25,000 bales of cotton into the highest grade of cloth annually. According to the newspaper, it was the city’s largest contributor to the March of Dimes, Polio Drive and Salvation Army for many years.

The Starkville cotton mill history is very different from most cotton mill towns according to Strickland's research. Narvell Strickland’s History of Cotton Mills states, “The houses and people were upper class in comparison to others."

Sanborn maps show a mill school was located at the corner of Gillespie and Mill Street. Newspapers stated the school was for grades 1 and 2 and that about 50 students attended. According to some school records, Mrs. Maggie Miller, Ms Mary Mosley and Mrs. Lillian Alston (possibly others) taught at the mill school with the city paying the teacher’s salary which was $35 a month in 1910. The school closed in 1948 when the school bond issue passed. Sanborn maps also show a church located on Mill Street just west of the mill that served as a community center in which their Boy Scout Troop 14 met and where many singings and talent shows were held. The mill village also had their own doctor, Dr. F.E. Barr who made home visits. The Sanders Beacon states that Dr. Barr gave each mill school child a physical and the information was sent home to the parents with their grades.

The mill operated for 60 years and employed more people than any industry ever located in Starkville with employees traveling sixty miles to work. Mississippi State University purchased the building in 1965.

Today, the building stands as a substantial and well-preserved material representative of an important phase in the rise of industry and economic development in Starkville and Mississippi by providing hundreds of jobs.

The Textile Building (Twin Towers) and the Starkville Cotton Mill (E.E. Cooley Building) are both on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum has an industrial exhibit which contains the following artifacts from the mill: large architectural illustration of the cotton mill, chambray cloth manufactured at the mill, handmade tools used by workers, and an instrument used to determine the grade of the cloth among other things.

Visit the museum to rediscover other industrial happenings in our county and enjoy the many other exhibits. The museum is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 1-4 pm.

View more articles in:

Latest Videos

Tanner Fant of Starkville , Miss. will travel to Mobile, Ala. on Sunday, June 14 to participate in the 58th...
Drinking a beverage that tastes delicious and has good nutritional value is like having your cake and eating it, too.
Pasta, bread, pizza crusts, peanut butter, fried foods, beef, even certain types of chips — these are all foods that...
The memories of April 21, 2008 when we went to the Boston Marathon still lingered in our hearts and souls on April 15...
Emily Jones Deluded Diva My neighbor, (I'll call her Brenda for the sake of anonymity), is one of the best things that...


Premium Drupal Themes by Adaptivethemes