Little Brown Church in the Vale

I can still hear daddy singing it… Little Brown Church in the Vale. It’s one of those songs that always takes me back to a simpler and sweeter yesteryear. And when I open my heart to listen, I picture a small brown church set safely in deep quiet shadows. Nestled in a damp cluster of pines and oaks, “No place is so dear to my childhood, as the little brown church in the vale.

It’s a beautiful song. Many great singers have sung the heart-touching strain; vocalists such as Dolly Parton, Statler Brothers, Bill and Gloria Gaither, Alabama, just to name a few. You’ve most likely heard it, but do you know the story behind Little Brown Church in the Vale? Until recently, I had not. Personally, I think this is a story that is just as awesome as the song itself. 

William S. Pitts Visits the Vale

In 1857, Wisconsin music teacher, William S. Pitts, was traveling to meet his fiancée, when his stage coach made a stop in Bradford, Iowa. William was deeply stirred by the beauty of the location. And though it did not yet exist, in his mind he clearly saw it: a small brown church tucked amid the lush woodlands along the Cedar River.

The portrait hammered William’s thoughts and refused to let go, prompting William to put pen to paper, laying out his vision of the perfect place into poetry. Pitts did not find peace, however, until the words he’d scribbled were set to music.

• • • • •

Little Brown Church in the Vale


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
 
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
 
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
 
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
 
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.

It was five years later before William and his wife traveled through Bradford again. There, in the beautiful glen just as he envisioned it, stood a little brown church—in the exact location as he had penciled it in his thoughts. Only now, the church wasn’t a dream.

• • • • •

How the construction of the little brown church came to be

It was 1855 when a group of believers began congregating in various places around Bradford in regular attendance. At last the group was given a particular property which happened to be the lovely vale William S. Pitts had already happened upon. The believers built their church not only on the same property Pitts explored, they built it in the exact same spot. And why was it the flock came to choose to paint their church brown just as it was said in the song? The particular brown paint they chose was the cheapest color to purchase from the place they bought it. None of the small congregation had yet heard of William S. Pitts or the song he wrote, but for certain, one day they would.

“During the winter of 1863-1864 Pitts taught a singing class at Bradford Academy. He resurrected the song and tutored his class to sing the song at the dedication of the new church in 1864, This was the first time the song was sung by anyone other than Pitts himself.”


bluegrasstoday.com

William sold the rights to his song in 1865 for $25 to pay the enrollment fees to go to medical school. As the song grew popular, so did the church. Today, crowds still gather. Some come for special events, others for weddings, and others just to take a peak, for there is no lovelier place than the little brown church in the vale.

• • • • •

I hope you’ve found the tale behind Little Brown Church in the Vale fascinating! I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below, and share this post on social media.

I’d like to thank all of you who have taken the time to join my mailing list and congratulations to Diane, our winner of Gloria Glasgow’s To Blossom Out From Hiding! Today, we’re holding our drawing for Heather Blanton’s A Lady In Defiance, and we’ll be announcing our winner shortly!

As always, I’d like to invite you to join my mailing list. Joining enters you into our monthly book drawing, as well as our quarterly prize. Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a great week!

Our sources for this week:

bluegrasstoday.com

latimes.com

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