An 1857 gospel classic, “The Church in the Wildwood” was conceived about an envisioned church being built along the woodlands in Bradford, Iowa. American physician and composer Dr. William S. Pitts penned and composed the lyrics and melody of the tune. Since then, the said church would then become popularly known simply as “The Little Brown Church.”
In the winter of 1863, Dr. Pitts taught the song to his class at Bradford Academy where he was teaching music. Eventually, he had the class sing the song at the new church’s dedication in 1864. This was the first time the song was sung apart from Pitts himself.
“The Church in the Wildwood:” A Vision of Dr. Pitts
While on his way to pay a visit for his fiancée in Fredericksburg, Iowa, the stagecoach carrying Dr. William Pitts stopped at Bradford, a small town in Iowa. With this, it allowed him to wander the area and have a walk in the woodlands. Struck in awe of its beauty and magnificence, Dr. Pitts enjoyed the majestic wooded valley carved by the Cedar River. Continuing his walk through the woods, he envisioned a church building there. Seemingly, the vision stuck in his head and he could not erase it from his mind.
On his way home to Wisconsin, he decided to write about his experience, especially what he envisioned, in Iowa. He then crafted what it is known as “The Church in the Wildwood.” After the piece’s completion, Dr. Pitts, for his own sake, felt better and said:
“only then was I at peace with myself.”
In 1862, Dr. Pitts was finally married, and he and his wife moved to her hometown in Iowa. Upon his visit to the area where he got his inspiration of “The Church in the Wildwood,” he was surprised to find a church being built there. Recollecting, he clearly remembered that it was five years ago when he imagined that a church is erected in the same place. In fact, the building was even being painted brown as it was the least expensive color of paint at that time.
Alabama and “The Church of Wildwood”
In 2014, American country music and Southern rock group Alabama included the song in a series of gospel song performances. Some of the songs that they performed were “The Old Rugged Cross,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Because He Lives,” and “I Saw the Light.”
Moreover, they narrated the song’s story by singing it in their own take. Truly a magnificent and vivacious performance that was.
WATCH Alabama takes on this 19th-century gospel classic “The Church in the Wildwood:”
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Alabama, Dr. William Pitts, The Church in the Wildwood