The Church in the Wildwood" is a song that was written by Dr. William S. Pitts in 1857
following a coach ride that stopped in Bradford, Iowa. It is a song about a church in a valley
near the town, though the church was not actually built until several years later. In the years
since, the church has become known simply as "the Little Brown Church".
During a stagecoach ride to visit his fiancée in Fredericksburg, Iowa, the stage stopped at
Bradford and allowed Pitts time to wander the area and enjoy the woodlands. Pitts found
particular beauty in a wooded valley formed by the Cedar River. While viewing the spot, Pitts
envisioned a church building there and could not seem to ease the vision from his mind.
Returning to his home in Wisconsin, he wrote "The Church in the Wildwood" for his own
sake, eventually saying of its completion, "only then was I at peace with myself."
By 1862 Pitts was married, and he and his wife moved to Fredericksburg to be near her
elderly parents. He was surprised upon his return to the area to find a church being erected
where he had imagined it five years before. The building was even being painted brown,
because that was the least expensive color of paint to be found. During the winter of 1863-
64 he taught a singing class at Bradford Academy. Pitts had his class sing the song at the
dedication of the new church in 1864. This was the first time the song was sung by anyone
apart from Pitts himself.
In 1865, Pitts moved to Chicago, Illinois, to enroll in Rush Medical College. To pay his
enrollment fees, he sold the rights to the song to a music publisher for $25. He completed
medical school, graduating in 1868, but the song was again forgotten.
Nearing the twentieth century, small Bradford was in great decline. The village had been
bypassed by a new railroad through Nashua, Iowa, two miles west, and the flour mill moved
to New Hampton, Iowa to be on a bigger river. The town was once the county seat, but
population was in steady decline, and the church had grown neglected. In 1888, the church