Wednesday, May 14, 2008

NO SPOT IS SO DEAR TO MY CHILDHOOD, AS THE LITTLE BROWN CHURCH IN THE DALE...
Deedee over at Love White Linen inspired this post, so thank you, Deedee.. She recently made reference to the beautiful Christian hymn, I come to the Garden Alone, and this transported me back in time to when I was a young girl growing up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. On Sundays at church we would often sing that hymn which my Grandmother particularly loved and this reminded me of another hymn, Church in the Wildwood, which was also a favorite. This certainly brought back memories of summer potlucks with all the great covered dishes, vacation Bible School, and Easter Egg Hunts where we still colored real eggs ( and ate them, too!) and the plastic ones didn't exist! So, this journey down memory lane motivated me to search a bit about this hymn. I was very surprised to find that this church actually exists, in Iowa! The history of the song and church is so charming that I wanted to blog about this sweet hymn that brings back so many precious memories... I know my Grandmother is still singing them in heaven....Thank you, Deedee, for the inspiration...



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.

History took another turn when the Weatherwax Quartet traveled throughout Canada and the United States in the 1920s and 30s. Their theme song was “The Church in the Wildwood” and they talked about the little church. After World War I, highways were improved and cars brought many visitors. When a School superintendent and a merchants’ daughter were married at the church, a new tradition was started. Over 40,000 visitors come to the Little Brown Church each year, and over 400 weddings are performed annually. In June of 2005, the 72,000 wedding was held at the church. The congregation is alive and well with an active Sunday School, youth groups, choirs, ladies’ fellowship, Bible study, a prayer chain group, and weekly services at 10:30 on Sunday. They remain, as they were founded, a Congregational Church. The song continues to be sung in a little church that is painted brown and sits in the wildwood.

In 1998 the bell tower was completely restored. In 2000 with help from the State Historical Society of Iowa Site Preservation Grant Program, a new foundation was placed under the church. This project has enabled the church to be completely handicap accessible. Air conditioning has been added for the first time.



The Church in The Wildwood


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

(Oh, come, come, come, come)

Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale

How sweet on a clear Sabbath morning
To listen to the clear ringing bells
Its tones so sweetly are calling
Oh come to the church in the vale

(Oh, come, come, come, come)

Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale


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

(Oh, come, come, come, come)



Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale



There, close by the side of that loved one
'Neath the tree where the wild flowers bloom
When farewell hymns shall be chanted
I shall rest by her side in the tomb



(Oh, come, come, come, come)



Come to the church by the wildwood
Oh, come to the church in the vale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale

11 comments:

Mmm said...

What an interesting story ..and great memories from you too. I've never even heard of this hymn before but then again, there aren't many hymns I remember or even liked that much. Like the words though.

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Rebecca, this post touched my heart. Being Greek Orthodox, I have never heard of this hymn; how I wish I could hear it....

It's utterly remarkable that this little church was revived from its near-demise. To think that it was built with such love and dedication...but time passed and life moved beyond the church...it fell into a state of dis-use...and then, the revival, and people coming together to give this little church its due, and make it come alive again, with services, weddings, fellowship. A very happy ending.

THe history is quite interesting; and the coincidences that occurred...a higher Hand had a part in all this, I'd say...

Once again, you live up to your 'Historical" moniker...very well composed addition to your blog.

Regards,
Lavinia

Rebecca said...

mmm and Lavinia, it is a hymn that I seldom here any more. Perhaps they still sing this at my Grandmother's church( a Baptist church) but I've never heard our church's choir( Anglican) sing this or have this as congregational singing...We did sing it when I grew up in a small country Methodist church and it was one of our Pastor's favorites. I had no idea about the history of the hymn and loved what I found...Lavinia the church has its own website and they have a version of the song on there. Do a search on Church in the Wildwood, Iowa and that should take you to the site where I found the history..etc..

Rebecca said...

oops...I meant seldom hear not here...Sleep deprevation is setting in..LOL!!!

willow said...

We used to sing that sweet old hymn in the Baptist church, too. I didn't know that it was a real church! Very interesting post, Rebecca. I loved that.

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Rebecca, I'll do that search...

Your blog is so educational.

Regards,
Lavinia

DeeDee said...

Rebecca...this is such a wonderful story of the little church in the Wildwood...My goodness I have so enjoyed reading about the history of the church and now what is taking place today. I would think, without a doubt, that this little church was built, in it's entirety by God...no small thing that the song was written before the church was built...I hope lots of folks gravitate to your blog today and read this amazing story...As I read the words to the song, I do remember singing it as a child and remembered each word. Thank you for a beautiful post...Dee Dee

steviewren said...

I remember that song. I'm not sure if we sang it in church, but we sang it somewhere because I know the words. Very interesting story about it's history. I'm glad you researched it.

david santos said...

Excellent!
Thank you

Betsy said...

We used to sing both of those hymns in church but haven't in years....moving to more contemporary songs most of the time. Very interesting history....and memories...thanks!

rochambeau said...

Hi Rebecca,
What a dear church and with a soul. With memories, for you and for many.
Thanks for sharing one of your sacred places.
xo
C