History of Little Brown Church One bright afternoon of a day in June 1857, I first set foot in old Bradford, Iowa, coming by stage from McGregor. My home was in Wisconsin. The spot where the “Little Brown Church” now stands was a setting of rare beauty. There was no church there but the spot was there waiting for it. When back in my home I wrote the song ’The Little Brown Church in the Vale.’ I put the manuscript away. In the spring of 1862 I returned to Iowa and settled at Fredericksburg… In the years of 1859 and 1860 the good people of Bradford were determined to build a church… By the early winter of 1864 the building was ready for dedication. While I was holding the singing school, near its close in the spring, the class went one evening to the church. It was not then seated, but rude seats were improvised. My manuscript of the song I had brought with me from Wisconsin. It had never been sung before by anyone but myself. I sang it there. Soon afterwards I took the manuscript to Chicago, where it was published by H. M. Higgins. It won a speedy recognition locally and with the years won its way into the hearts of the people of the world. Soon after its publication the church at Bradford, which had been painted brown (for want of money to buy better paint, some say), became known as “The Little Brown Church in the Vale.” My hope is that it will stand for a thousand years and call the old man and his descendants to worship.
Dr. William S. Pitts (1830-1918) was born in Orleans County, New York. As a young man, he taught school in rural Rock County, Wisconsin. He later became a doctor, and practiced in Fredericksburg, Iowa, for over 40 years. He is buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Fredericksburg.