“There’s a church in the valley in the wildwood. No lovelier place in the dell. No spot is so dear to my childhood, as the little brown church in the vale. Oh come, come, come, come. Come to the church in the wildwood. Oh, come to the church in the dell. No spot is so dear to my childhood as the little brown church in the dell.” – William S. Pitts
Adventures with Pepper: Day 27
It was with a bit of reluctance that I left Carthage Gap and the family that had adopted me, but I was on the road in time to watch the sun come up.
It never did. While the weather was calm, it was a completely overcast day.
But the roadside scenery, when I had time to look at it, more than made up for the missing sun.
But it was a hard day’s drive on Highway 50, through the Appalachian foothills, and the road got most of my attention. The route was mostly narrow, mostly winding, and the primary two directions it traveled was either up or down.
It wouldn’t have been too bad if I were going my usual 100 to 150 miles, but I was facing a journey of 270 miles. The distance wasn’t by choice, but because I couldn’t find a decent campground to spend the night until I reached Front Royal, Virginia.
I’m not sure why, but I suspect it was the many church steeples I was seeing as I drove through West Virginia that caused me to start singing “The Church in the Wildwood” to Pepper. I hope she is tone-deaf because I couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended on it. Usually the only time I ever sing is when I’m driving, and usually only because I want to stay awake.
The hymn, written by Iowa school teacher William S. Pitts in 1857, was my grandmother’s favorite song.
When I did some research this morning, because I wondered if I had the lyrics right, I discovered an amazing story in the Des Moines Register about the song.
The article said Pitts wrote the song following a coach ride that stopped in Bradford, Iowa, where he saw a wooded valley in which he envisioned a little brown church.
Five years later, when he returned to that same Cedar River valley, the church he had imagined had been built, down to its brown color.
. During the winter of 1863-64, Pitts taught a singing class at Bradford Academy, and 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, according to the newspaper article.
The second amazing thing is that the little brown church still exists. It’s a popular tourist attraction in Nashua, Iowa.