Histories Intertwined: Bruce Sawmill in Missississippi Celebrates 50 Years of Deep Community Connection

Bruce employees gather for a team photo to celebrate the site's 50th anniversary. 'I think we’re extra cautious about safety because we all know each other outside of work,' Benjy says. 'When something good happens, we celebrate it as a community. And when something bad happens, we feel the pain across the entire site. We want to take care of each other.'

On July 4, the tiny town of Bruce, Mississippi, held its annual Sawmill Festival, honoring the largest industry in Calhoun County. Every year, locals get together for food, fun, a 5K run and a showcase of local arts and crafts.

This year was extra special, because Bruce was celebrating a big anniversary: 50 years of Weyerhaeuser owning the town’s southern yellow pine lumber mill.

“We’ve been one of the main sponsors of the event for many years, and this year we got to toot our own horns a little,” says Benjy Herrin, unit manager, who’s worked at the mill for nearly 25 years. “We rented bouncy houses for the kids to play in for free, which were very popular! Everyone had a blast at the festival.”

Image of employees handing out swag to community members during the Sawmill Festival in July.

Employees handed out swag to community members during the Sawmill Festival in July.


Lumber production has been a central part of the town’s identity since its founding. Around 1900, enterprising business owners began purchasing thousands of acres of majestic white oak trees and towering pines in rural Mississippi for a mere $2.50 an acre.

In 1925, the E. L. Bruce Company of Memphis, Tennessee, purchased nearly all of those timberland holdings, built the Skuna Valley Railroad and founded the first industrial enterprise in the area: the Bruce Company hardwood sawmill. The town of Bruce was officially established on July 4, 1927, with the sawmill serving as its economic center for many decades to follow.

The sawmill changed hands several times throughout the 20th century, and then in the early 1970s Weyerhaeuser purchased a portion of the mill site to build a chip and saw operation.

Image of a gazebo with a Sawmill Festival banner hanging from it.

'We have a great timber base in this area; Weyerhaeuser owns a lot of the forests in this and neighboring counties,' Benjy says. 'People out here know we take good care of that land, and they trust us to keep it safe and healthy so it benefits them, too.'


The softwood sawmill has changed a lot in 50 years. In the 1990s, the site carried out some improvements, building a bandsaw sawmill, a new drying department and a new planer mill. The majority of the sawmill was completely rebuilt and modernized in 2016. And, of course, its safety culture and sustainability standards have evolved.

“We’re proud of the hard work we put into the well-being of the mill, which is directly tied to the well-being of the town,” Benjy says.

The sawmill sits right on the edge of downtown, giving it a unique connection to the everyday lives of local residents.

“Often, that kind of location is associated with pressure from the community to relocate to a less visible area,” Benjy says. “But town leaders have made it clear that they really value our role here. We do everything we can to honor that relationship and support our fellow citizens.”

Imge of employees gathered earlier in December 2023 for the site's annual Employee Recongition banquet and to celebrate the site's anniversary.

Employees gathered earlier this month for the site's annual Employee Recognition banquet and to celebrate the site's anniversary. 'When you have a really strong community culture at your site and you bring in new people, they feel a sense of belonging very quickly,' Benjy says. 'I think that’s a major benefit to us as a whole. We’re all more accountable to each other.'


Employees at the mill make use of our TREE-Mendous Matching Gifts program to direct funds into the Bruce school system and county schools. They also support local projects, such as the recent rebuilding of a large playground in the community park, where all of Bruce’s football and baseball fields are located.

“It’s clear that the town of Bruce appreciates and respects our role here,” Benjy says. “We get a lot of recognition in the local newspaper, and we have great relationships with our mayor and aldermen. If they need something, we try to help them out. And while it’s rare that we ask them for anything, when we do, they’re responsive and helpful.”

In December, the Bruce sawmill celebrated its big anniversary again during its annual Employee Recognition banquet.

“We planned it for a Saturday night when very few people work so we could all celebrate as one big family — because that’s truly what we are,” Benjy says. “Many of us go to church together. Our kids play sports together. Our connections with each other and with the company run deep, and ultimately, that’s what makes us who we are.”