We continue our conference countdown with the Little Brown Church.
Oh, come, come, come, come, come to the church in the Wildwood,
Oh, come to the church in the dale,
No spot is as dear to my childhood as the Little Brown Church in the vale.
This lovely old hymn was inspired by a spot in Nashua, Iowa. The story goes like this:
“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.”
The complete words to the song and a direct quote from Pitts is available here.
Pitts went on his way, but in the meantime a local Congregational Church (the same denomination of the Ingalls Family) got tired of meeting in different places around town and decided to build a church. By coincidence they picked the exact spot that Pitts thought was the perfect setting for a church. The brown color came from the cheapest paint available at the time it was originally painted. Keep in mind that no one in the community had ever heard Pitts song or the part in it about the Little Brown Church. Pitts later moved to the area in 1862 to be closer to his elderly parents and was delighted to find a church being built just where his fancy had placed it and even the brown paint selected already. He dug out the song and it was used at the church’s dedication service. Time wore on and although the coincidence of the song was still talked about, the world forgot about the little church and the town it sat in.
Then the singing group The Weatherwax Quartet picked “Church in the Wildwood” as their theme song and wherever they toured in the United States and Canada between 1910 and 1921 they sang the song and talked about the church. The town had been bypassed by the railroad, but as roads and highways slowly improved tourists began to come to see the church in the song. Many people want to be married at the church even if they aren’t from the area and in October of 2009 the Little Brown Church celebrated its 73,000th wedding.
While people came from all over to visit the church, it was especially taken to heart by the people of Iowa and you can find in antique stores all over the state one time souvenirs of The Little Brown Church. My own grandparents took one of the very few vacations they ever took on their own to see The Little Brown Church and we took a detour to visit it a few years ago.
Right next door to the church is Old Bradford Museum (Bradford being the previous name of the town). They have an extensive collection of buildings and antiques, although when I visited basically no interpretation whatsoever. Still it gives you a nice chance to stretch your legs after seeing the church and they do have some very impressive individual pieces, so keep your eyes open.