Words & Music by: Dr. William S. Pitts (1830-1918)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Church_in_the_Wildwood
The present church’s website and history:
The first settlers came to the Bradford area in 1848 and with an abundant water supply and virgin timber, the town grew. By 1855 the first members of the Puritan-Congregational Church had begun holding meetings. By 1856, Bradford had 500 residents and was the first town in this part of Iowa.
A young music teacher named William Pitts was traveling by stagecoach from Wisconsin to Iowa to visit his future wife. While waiting for the stagecoach horses to be changed, he walked down Cedar Street and saw the empty lot where the church now stands. Being a romantic young man, the thought came to him of what a charming setting the spot would make for a church. Returning home, he wrote the poem “Church in the Wildwood,” and later set it to music. He put it away in a drawer and forgot it.
Meanwhile, church members grew tired of meeting in places such as the lawyer’s office, abandoned stores and parishioners’ homes. They began making plans to build a church. A family in the parish gave them the property. When Rev. Nutting arrived, talk of building became serious. Limestone was quarried and by 1860 the foundation was laid. The Civil War slowed the work, but when one family gave trees and another donated the sawing of the lumber, the work never really ceased. By 1862 the building was enclosed and not a penny had been spent. When it came time to paint the building, the cheapest paint to be found was Ohio Mineral Paint, which would protect the wood but which was unhappily brown. With help from friends in the east, the building was finished, complete with bell, in 1864.
Mr. Pitts had married and was living in Wisconsin. In 1862 the couple moved to Fredericksburg to be near her elderly parents and Mr. Pitts was hired to teach singing class at the Bradford Academy. Imagine his surprise when he saw a little brown church nestled in the very trees where he had stood some years before. He went home and found the song and taught it to his class who sang it at the dedication service of the church. Pitts had written a song for a church that wasn’t there. The congregation had painted their little church brown without ever hearing of the song.
History was hard on the Little Brown Church. The railroad by-passed the town and a flour mill moved to New Hampton to be on a bigger river. The railroad and other industry moved to Nashua. The town, once the county seat, slowly disappeared. In 1888, the church building was closed, although the congregation continued to hold Sunday School every week at the school. Occasional services were held at the building. In the early 1900’s a Society For The Preservation of The Little Brown Church was started and by 1914, services were again held, as they are now.
The Little Brown Church - Past
Dr. William S. Pitts (1830-1918)
The Little Brown Church - Present
LYRICS: The Church in the Wildwood
1. There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood, No lovelier spot in the dale; No place is so dear to my childhood, As the little brown church in the vale.
Come to the church in the wildwood, Oh, come to the church in the dale, No spot is so dear to my childhood, As the little brown church in the vale.
2. How sweet on a clear, Sabbath morning, To list to the clear ringing bell; Its tones so sweetly are calling, Oh, come to the church in the vale.
3. There, close by the church in the valley, Lies one that I loved so well; She sleeps, sweetly sleeps, ’neath the willow, Disturb not her rest in the vale.
4. There, close by the side of that loved one, To trees where the wild flowers bloom, When the farewell hymn shall be chanted I shall rest by her side in the tomb.
5. From the church in the valley by the wildwood, When day fades away into night, I would fain from this spot of my childhood Wing my way to the mansions of light.