I had of course heard about the Little Brown Church in the Vale which inspired William Pitts to write his famous poem “Church in the Wildwood”, but I had never seen it. On our way home from the LeSeuer Swap Meet in Minnesota we saw the sign and I talked Keith into veering off the main path home to stop at this historic site.
The lovely church is near the town of Bradford, Iowa which was settled in 1848. The locale was selected by the pioneers because of the abundant water supply and virgin timber. Members of the Puritan-Congregational Church had begun to hold meetings and by 1856 the town had grown to around 500 residents.
The poem by William Pitts, a music teacher, was written after he was traveling by stagecoach from Wisconsin to Iowa to visit his future wife. While waiting for the horses to be exchanged he walked down the street and saw the lot where the church would be built. He thought this would make a fine place for a church and he was inspired to write the poem and later set it to music.
Church members tired of meeting in their homes and offices decided it was time to build a church, In 1860 they quarried limestone and built the foundation. The Civil War slowed the work, but the website shares, “After 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.”
Watching the cost, the congregation chose the cheapest paint to protect the church and it brown Ohio Mineral Paint. They were not happy with the color, but the brown church was completed with bell and all in 1864.
The rest of the story is quite amazing. William Pitt had married and was living in Wisconsin and got a job to teach singing classes at the Bradford Academy. When he saw that they had built a church in the very place he had envisioned, he taught the students the song and they sang it at the dedication service of the church.
Economic downturn hit the area and the church closed in 1888 although the congregation continued to hold Sunday School every week at the school. It was the Society For The Preservation of the Little Brown Church was started in the 1900’s and by 1914, they were held again.
The church was put on the map by the Weatherwax Quartet that traveled through Canad and the US between 1910 and 1921 performing with the theme song “Church in the Wildwood”. The group talked about the church and after World War I, visitors started to arrive when roads and automobiles made travel easier.
Now visitors come to see the church and many to be married here. “Over 40,000 visitors one to the Little Brown Church each years and over 400 weddings are performed annually.”
Be sure to go behind the church and check out the garden with the lovely statues.
The church today is still the Congregational Church and they hold services sharing the gospel of Christ and the history of the song of their Little Brown Church. The church is located on Highway 346 Nashua, Iowa Just north of Waterloo Iowa and three miles from the Avenue of the Saints Highway (27/218), Exit 220 at Nashua, Iowa. Log onto http://www.littlebrownchurch.org/index.shtml for more information.