Song Story: Church in the Wildwood

This is one instance in which the cart came before the horse. 

The area of Bradford, Iowa was first settled as the California Gold Rush was getting underway in the late 1840s. 

William Pitts

William Pitts, was a music teacher, traveling from Wisconsin to Iowa to visit his future wife.  As the stagecoach horses were being changed, he began to wander around the town and saw an empty lot.  The trees in the valley surrounded the location and it was so beautiful that he thought to himself this beautiful setting would make the perfect place for a church.

Upon returning home, he sat down and wrote the poem, Church in the Wildwood.  He then set his poem to music. 

Ten years would pass, before the parishioners in the area grew tired of meeting in one another’s homes.  The church members began to make plans for the church and set out to choose the location.

Various families in the area began to provide needed supplies.  One donated the property, another trees for the lumber, another limestone for the foundation and a fourth family paid to have the trees sawn into lumber. 

William Pitts returned to the area in 1862, along wit his bride.  He was shocked to be greeted by an almost completed church in the very area where he stood a dozen years earlier, dreaming of a church in that very location. 

William Pitts returned home and found the song he’d stashed away so long ago.  He began to teach it to his class who sang the song at the dedication service of the church.

When the time came to paint the church building in 1864, the most inexpensive paint available was Ohio Mineral Paint, which would protect the wood.  However, the paint was brown instead of white. 

Sadly, the years ahead were not always easy for this little church.  The doors closed in 1888. 

In 1914, a preservation society took over and services began again. 

The Weatherwax Quartet adopted the song as their theme. 

By 1921, cars brought many visitors to visit the church.  That year the school superintendent married a merchant’s daughter and over 74,000 weddings have taken place there over the years.

William Pitts wrote the song for a church that wasn’t even there.  A decade later, the congregation painted the little church brown without ever hearing the song.  God truly works in mysterious ways.

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