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LIttle Brown Church in the Vale, Nashua

#28 of 69 in Historic Sites in Iowa
Must see · Religious Site · Church
We believe in God the Father, infinite in wisdom, goodness, and love, and in Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord and Savior, who for us and for our salvation lived and died and rose again and liveth evermore, and in the Holy Spirit, who taketh of the things of Christ and revealeth them to us, renewing, comforting, and inspiring the souls of men.

We are united in striving to know the will of God as taught in the Holy Scriptures, and in our purpose to walk in the ways of the Lord, made known or to be made known to us.

We hold it to be the mission of the Church of Christ to proclaim the Gospel to all mankind,exalting the worship of the one true God, and laboring for the progress of knowledge, the promotion of justice, the reign of peace, and the realization of human brotherhood. Depending, as did our fathers, upon the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, we work and pray for the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God, and we look with faith for the triumph of righteousness, and the life everlasting.

We believe in the freedom and responsibility of the individual soul, and the right of private judgment. We hold to the autonomy of the local church and its independence of all ecclesiastical control. We cherish the fellowship of the churches, united in district, state, and national bodies, for counsel and cooperation in matters of common concern. The Wider Fellowship while affirming the liberty of our churches, and the validity of our ministry, we hold to the unity and catholicity of the Church of Christ, and will unite with all its branches in hearty cooperation; and will earnestly seek, so far as in us lies, that the prayer of our Lord for his disciples may be answered, that they all may be one.

We practice two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. We believe that by participating in these, the Covenant of Grace is "sealed" for the believer. These sacraments are visible signs that God has given to confirm to the individual person God's covenant promises made throughout the Word.

OUR HISTORY:: The first settlers came to the Bradford area in 1848 and with an abundant water supply and virgin timber, the town grew. By 1855 the first members of the Puritan-Congregational Church had begun holding meetings. By 1856, Bradford had 500 residents and was the first town in this part of Iowa.

A young music teacher named William Pitts was traveling by stagecoach from Wisconsin to Iowa to visit his future wife. While waiting for the stagecoach horses to be changed, he walked down Cedar Street and saw the empty lot where the church now stands. Being a romantic young man, the thought came to him of what a charming setting the spot would make for a church. Returning home, he wrote the poem “Church in the Wildwood,” and later set it to music. He put it away in a drawer and forgot it.

Meanwhile, church members grew tired of meeting in places such as the lawyer’s office, abandoned stores and parishioners’ homes. They began making plans to build a church. A family in the parish gave them the property. When Rev. Nutting arrived, talk of building became serious. Limestone was quarried and by 1860 the foundation was laid. The Civil War slowed the work, but when one family gave trees and another donated the sawing of the lumber, the work never really ceased. By 1862 the building was enclosed and not a penny had been spent. When it came time to paint the building, the cheapest paint to be found was Ohio Mineral Paint, which would protect the wood but which was unhappily brown. With help from friends in the east, the building was finished, complete with bell, in 1864.

Mr. Pitts had married and was living in Wisconsin. In 1862 the couple moved to Fredericksburg to be near her elderly parents and Mr. Pitts was hired to teach singing class at the Bradford Academy. Imagine his surprise when he saw a little brown church nestled in the very trees where he had stood some years before. He went home and found the song and taught it to his class who sang it at the dedication service of the church. Pitts had written a song for a church that wasn’t there. The congregation had painted their little church brown without ever hearing of the song.

History was hard on the Little Brown Church. The railroad by-passed the town and a flour mill moved to New Hampton to be on a bigger river. The railroad and other industry moved to Nashua. The town, once the county seat, slowly disappeared. In 1888, the church building was closed, although the congregation continued to hold Sunday School every week at the school. Occasional services were held at the building. In the early 1900’s a Society For The Preservation of The Little Brown Church was started and by 1914, services were again held, as they are now.

History took another turn when the Weatherwax Quartet traveled throughout Canada and the United States between 1910 and 1921. Their theme song was “The Church in the Wildwood” and they talked about the little church. After World War I, highways were improved and cars brought many visitors. When a School superintendent and a merchants’ daughter were married at the church, a new tradition was started.

Over 40,000 visitors come to the Little Brown Church each year, and over 200 weddings are performed annually. In October of 2015, the 74,000 wedding was held at the church. The congregation is alive and well with weekly services at 10:30 on Sunday. They remain, as they were founded, a Congregational Church. The song continues to be sung in a little church that is painted brown and sits in the wildwood.

In 1998 the bell tower was completely restored. In 2000 with help from the State Historical Society of Iowa Site Preservation Grant Program, a new foundation was placed under the church. This project has enabled the church to be completely handicap accessible. Air conditioning has been added for the first time.
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LIttle Brown Church in the Vale reviews

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55 reviews
  • Beautiful peace filled church. Interestingly enough the song was written when it was simply a wooded area and then many years later the songwriter was ' going through' Nashua again and to his shock...  more »
  • First of all, this was more fun because the previous day, we'd seen a model/clock of the church at the Bily Clock Museum in nearby Spillville. Which made it more fun. Second, we were alone and at...  more »
  • This is a great place to visit. A lot of history here. My granddaughter and daughter loved it when we went to visit.
  • Wonderful country church! So peaceful & the church is taken care of - you can tell how much it is loved!!

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