Sunday, June 19, 2016


There really is a little brown church in the vale.

I tuned a lot of pianos in the Michigan woods during the 1980s and 90s. One of my favorite customers was Mrs. Hilton who lived near Hardy Dam north of White Cloud.

Every flat surface in Mrs. Hilton's living room was totally covered with sheet music. Most of it was classical, but there were some old songs from long ago and many hymn books.

I would ask the lady something about the old days and ways, and off she would go. I heard the most amazing yarns from her days in Iowa. But, the one that really caught me off guard was that, as a young girl, 
she attended Sunday School in the Little Brown Church in the Wildwood in Nashua, Iowa.

I had always assumed the song was not based on any particular little church anywhere, but I learned I was wrong.

She told me that when the church was first built, the local people paying for it could only afford the cheapest paint available, which was brown. 
That is still the paint color today.

Mrs. Brown had bags of cobbed corn and wild animal feed nearby, and her front yard was a virtual Michigan zoo with squirrels, raccoons, deer, wild turkeys, and thousands of birds. She fed them all, and she went through a lot of feed. She told me that that was her one luxury, and that what other people spent on booze, tobacco, and theater, she spent on feeding the animals. It was hard to concentrate as I tuned her piano because of the animal circus going on outside the window.

So, we all have our fifteen minutes of fame, and Mrs. Hilton may be mine. I always felt I was allowed by God to meet this very special lady with her stories from the Iowa prairie days from long ago.

The Little Brown Church in the Vale is a bit washed out theologically I fear, but they do have a site online and are still holding services.


I chose the Carter family from Tennessee to sing it for you.

How far has this hymn traveled? Would you believe to a "little brown church" in Masai Land in Kenya?

Now, there is an American export we do not have to be ashamed of, right?