Enter into His sanctuary, which He hath sanctified for ever.@2 Chronicles 30:8

William S. Pitts, 1857 ( pdf nwc).

One bright afternoon of a day in June 1857, I first set foot in old Bradford, Iowa, coming by stage from McGregor. My home was in Wisconsin. The spot where the Little Brown Church now stands was a setting of rare beauty. There was no church there but the spot was there waiting for it. When back in my home I wrote the song ‘The Little Brown Church in the Vale.’ I put the manuscript away. In the spring of 1862 I returned to Iowa and settled at Fredericksburg

In the years of 1859 and 1860 the good people of Bradford were determined to build a church…By the early winter of 1864 the building was ready for dedication. While I was holding the singing school, near its close in the spring, the class went one evening to the church. It was not then seated, but rude seats were improvised. My manuscript of the song I had brought with me from Wisconsin. It had never been sung before by anyone but myself. I sang it there. Soon afterwards I took the manuscript to Chicago [Illinois], where it was published by H. M. Higgins. It won a speedy recognition locally and with the years won its way into the hearts of the people of the world.

Soon after its publication the church at Bradford, which had been painted brown (for want of money to buy better paint, some say), became known as The Little Brown Church in the Vale. My hope is that it will stand for a thousand years and call the old man and his descendants to worship.

This song was popularized by the worldwide evangelism campaign of Arthur Chapman and Charles Alexander in 1893, and by the Weatherwax Quartet, beginning around 1910. It has been performed by many others, including by the Carter family singers, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, and the Gaithers. To this day, numerous couples still marry in the church each year (over 70,000 since record keeping started in 1918), and the church holds an annual wedding reunion.

portrait
William S. Pitts (1830-1918)
illustration
The Little Brown Church
Nashua, Iowa

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.

Refrain

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

How sweet on a clear, Sabbath morning,
To list to the clear ringing bell;
Its tones so sweetly are calling,
Oh, come to the church in the vale.

Refrain

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.

Refrain

There, close by the side of that loved one,
To trees where the wild flowers bloom,
When the farewell hymn shall be chanted
I shall rest by her side in the tomb.

Refrain

From the church in the valley by the wildwood,
When day fades away into night,
I would fain from this spot of my childhood
Wing my way to the mansions of light.

Refrain