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Collection 193 Records of the Washington Street Mission

Identifier: CN 193

Scope and Contents

Sermon notes, minutes, financial records, reports, oral history transcript, clippings, estate descriptions, tracts on various cults and heresies, and photographs documenting the history of the Washington Street Mission in Springfield, Illinois between 1914 and 1982.

Records describe tan urban mission and the effectiveness of their programs, administration, and financial activities, and a historical view of its origins in an oral history interview with Mary Brown Miller. Sermon notes cover many books of the Bible. Featured persons include Robert Brown and Robert Miller.


  • Created: 1916-1982

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Historical Information

The Washington Street Mission in Springfield, Illinois, was founded in 1910 as a result of the desire of a group of local businessmen to create a lasting institution from the effects of Billy Sunday meetings in that town. It was funded by a gift of George Coe, City Commissioner, and administered by Robert Thomas Brown. Its first address was 713 East Washington Street. Facilities included dormitories for men, a kitchen, rooms for storing clothes, food gifts, a study room, sewing room, and a chapel for services and Sunday School use. The Mission ministered to families and individuals in all types of distress: orphaned, estranged, and run-away children, senior citizens, non-American families, alcoholics, transients, unemployed, and single men and women without families. From its beginning in 1910, the Mission doors were open continuously day and night, offering help to an average of thirty-five to sixty-five individuals daily. All services were given free of charge, but each recipient was required to work wherever possible.

In 1911 Robert Brown (1875-1940), co-founder, became president of the Board of Directors and then Superintendent, a position he held until his death. He was the first of three generations of his family who served at the Mission. Before Brown became a permanent staff member, he had been secretary-treasurer of Vredenburgh Lumber Company, which had sold lumber to build the tabernacle for Billy Sunday's Springfield campaign in 1909. Brown was converted at one of these meetings. Subsequently he was tutored in the Bible by a friend, Lavinia Smith, who attended Dwight L. Moody's summer camp in Northfield, Massachusetts. As a result, he himself became a Bible teacher at the Mission and in the Springfield area, assisted in this by George Wright, a local cotton grower, and teachers like Florence Robertson, who worked with slow children and those who could not speak English. The Sunday school in these years often included three hundred children a week.

Brown married in 1896, and a daughter, Mary, was born in 1902. The family also included a second daughter, Margaret, and a young girl, Ruth, who joined them when she was eleven years old and who remained as a sister to the Brown daughters until she was twenty-four. Mrs. Brown and the girls were also active in many phases of the Mission work, though they did not live on the premises. The women often helped with the Girls' School, located on the Colley Estate in Springfield, which had been remodeled for this use.

When Mary Brown married Robert O. Miller, he too began working with the Washington Street Mission and ultimately became Superintendent. After his death in 1970, Mrs. Miller took over his responsibilities and remained in this job until her death, April 19, 1980. The Mission superintendency then went to Mr. and Mrs. James Beatty. In 1974, the Mission was relocated to 408 North Fourth Street from its former address at 111 South Eighth Street because of new construction by the city on the latter site. The grandson of Robert Brown, Thomas O. Kay, Chairman of the Department of History at Wheaton College, was elected Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Mission in 1982. In 1999 Kenneth and Mary Lynn Mitchell became directors of the Mission.


4.70 Cubic Feet (7 Boxes, Microfilm, Oversize Materials, Photographs)

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

Boxes 1 and 2 in this collection contain sermon notes for almost every book in the Bible. They are arranged in sequence by books within the Old Testament and the New Testament. They were probably used both by Robert Thomas Brown and by Robert O. Miller for preaching, and are not dated. Folders 2-1 to 2-5 contain selected texts to be used for particular occasions, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. The remaining folders, 2-6 and 2-7, are miscellaneous materials relating to missions and a collection of orders of service, programs, and bulletins from assorted churches.

Folders 3-1 to 3-4 contain an assortment of tracts from various groups, cults, and denominations. The researcher may consult the cross reference list in this guide for specific topics and groups included in these folders. Mrs. Miller's biographical experiences with the Mission are related in a 132-page oral history transcript in folder 3-5.

The records in these first three boxes are primarily personal and do not reflect the operation of the Mission, except indirectly in its preaching emphasis.

Approximately half the records in the rest of the boxes consist of financial reports, accounting ledgers, payrolls, receipts, and invoices, all of which outline in detail the financial operation of a city mission dependent on private funding. Also included are folders (5-2 through 5-4) which contain copies of many of the seasonal appeals for funds. Property which had been given or willed to the Mission is also described through its legal documents and correspondence (folders 4-6 through 4-8). Folder 4-2, a financial ledger (1922-1928) includes a clipping (1938) describing widow "Ma" Sunday's visit to the Mission on the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Mission as featured speaker with R. G. LeTourneau.

Other clippings are contained in folder 4-9, prepared as a record of the Mission's necessary relocation as the result of plans for a Civic Auditorium to be built on the site. In this file is also a copy of the dedication service of the new facilities on Fourth Street, 1974. Two other items of interest are a newspaper story on James and Lorraine Beatty, who succeeded Mrs. Robert O. Miller after her death in 1980, and a recapitulation, 1982, of Billy Sunday's 1909 crusade in Springfield.

Folder 5-1 contains a history of the Mission written in 1953 by Mrs. H. F. Rissler and testimonial letters from S. P. Wright (1938-1944) on the Mission's effect on his life. The collection also includes reports of use of the Mission, attendance statistics, classes, etc., which are a valuable source of insight into programs effective in an urban setting.

The folder titles in boxes 4 through 7 are of the original material, unaltered by the Archives. The order of all materials in the collection has been retained as it was received.

Accruals and Additions

The first three boxes of this collection were received by the Billy Graham Center Archives in February 1981. The other four boxes were received from the Mission in November 1982.

Accession 81-14, 82-158

January 20, 1982

Frances L. Brocker

J. Nasgowitz

January 24, 1983, revised

Frances L. Brocker

J. Nasgowitz

July 11, 2000, revised

Robert Shuster

Collection 193 Records of the Washington Street Mission
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US