Church in the Wildwood: A Story
Dr. William S. Pitts wrote the song “Church in the Wildwood” in 1857 following a coach ride that stopped in Bradford, Iowa. The song is about a church located in a valley near the town, though the church was not actually built until several years later. The church has become known simply as “the Little Brown Church” in the years since.
Pitts was traveling in a stagecoach in Fredericksburg, Iowa to visit his fiancee when the stage stopped in the area. He was able to wander at Bradford and enjoy the woodlands. The beauty of the wooded valley formed by the Cedar River had caught his attention. Pitts envisioned a church that stood there and could not seem to ease the vision from his mind. He then wrote the song and entitled it “Church in the Wildwood” when he returned to his home. He wrote the song for himself, and he became at peace afterward.
Pitts was married to his wife in 1862 and moved to Fredericksburg to be near his parent-in-law. To his surprise, the church he imagined five years ago has now been erected in the area. The church was painted with brown as that was the most affordable paint during that time. Pitts taught a singing class at Bradford Academy during the winter of 1863 to 1864. The song was first sung at the dedication of the new church in 1864 as he led his class to perform the song.
Pitts moved to Chicago, Illinois to enroll in Rush Medical College in 1865. He sold the rights to the song for 25 dollars to a music publisher to pay his enrollment fees. He graduated medical school in 1868. However, the song was forgotten, and the church had grown neglected. It was eventually closed in 1888. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Society For The Preservation of The Little Brown Church was founded, and in 1914, the services were again held in the building. The small congregation experienced an extraordinary revival and attracted many visitors to it and its song. Weatherwax Quartet during the time loved the song and chose it as their trademark song. The song grew in popularity, and since then, the church has become a popular tourist spot in Iowa up to this day.