Amana Colonies - A Tour Through Time
Our first "primary" destination on this journey through the upper-midwest is Amana Colonies in Iowa.
Of course, we loved the architecture, and this abandoned home in South Amana was one of the first things to catch Kathy's lens.
Amana, which means "believe faithfully", was established by the religious group Community of True Inspiration, with origins in Germany. These German-speaking European settlers came to America for many of the same reasons others did, because they didn't agree with the religious experience the churches provided.
Called "True Inspirationists", the group was founded by J.F. Rock and E.L Gruber in 1700s Germany, with both maintaining that the Lutheran Church neglected the spiritual needs of the congregation by getting into formalized worship and intellectual debate. Desiring a return to the basics of Christianity, Rock and Gruber attracted many followers with several congregations established throughout Germany, but by the mid-18th Century, the movement declined.
Devastated by war and famine in the early 1800s, Germans took comfort in religion, and once again the True Inspirationists began to grow. Based on the belief that God still spoke through prophets, these new "prophets" were called Werkzeuge, or instruments. As the group regained its popularity, Christian Metz would become a Werkzeuge and a guiding force in bringing them to America.
In 1842 the True Inspirationists purchased 5,000 acres near Buffalo, New York, and established a settlement called Ebenezer. The idea was that all property would be held in common, but then eventually divided among the people based on their contribution. However the leaders quickly saw the flaw in that plan with disparities in wealth and skills, and with the backing of Metz, they adopted a constitution in 1846 that established a permanent communal system.
Building in Homestead
Reaching a population of 1,200 by 1854, Ebenezer, NY became six villages and thrived. However, land prices around Buffalo were rising, and the community leaders felt that capitalist and worldly influences were enticing their followers toward materialism, so they decided it was time to move again.
Henry's Village Market in Homestead
Passing up sites in Kansas, the True Inspirationists settled on a location in the Iowa River valley west of Iowa City. Construction of Amana began in 1855, and as before, they retained the communal system of ownership. Everyone shared in its success, each family was provided what they needed. From goods at the General Store bought with an annual allowance, to free medical care. In return, the Elders assigned each person a job in the community based on skills and needs. Most women started working at 14 in the communal kitchens and gardens. They also tended laundry and a few worked at the woolen mills. The men had more opportunities in their assignments, working in craft shops, mills, and farms, and some were educated as doctors and pharmacists.
Cider Mill, Amana
By the 1860s it had grown to over 20,000 acres with seven villages spaced just a few miles apart. Known as the Amana Colony, the seven towns were named by their location; West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, East Amana, Middle Amana, and the original village of Amana.
They would also purchase the entire town of Homestead so they could take advantage of the new railroad line.
Gifts & Quilts Store, South Amana
Amana's woolen and calico factories, among the first in Iowa, were known throughout the U.S. for superior quality. By the early 1900s, the two woolen mills were producing a half-million yards of fabric a year, and the calico factory 4,500 yards of cloth a day. A couple of flour mills processed the community's grains, and crops of potatoes and onions were shipped to Midwest markets. All the profits were used to purchase goods from outside the colony.
West Amana had this cool tractor museum.
Of course, all this success worried the leaders that the same capitalist influences that brought them to Iowa would again threaten their followers, so they held church services 11 times a week. Every evening, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, and Sunday afternoon.
The last Werkzeug, Barbara Heinemann Landmann, died in 1883, but the elders functioned for nearly 50 years afterward without the support of divine authority. Amana became one of America's longest-lived communal societies until June 1, 1932, and what Amana residents call "the Great Change." Beginning in 1931, social strains of communal living, the loss of the calico print works after World War I, and a fire the previous decade that extensively damaged the woolen and flour mill, along with the national economic depression, came to a head with many True Inspirationists finding the rules to be overly restrictive, and the communal ownership inadequate. So on that June day in 1932, members separated the church from the business enterprises, creating a joint-stock company, and abandoned communalism. The Amana Society Inc still controls about 26,000 acres of land, and because the land was not divided up, the landscape still reflects its communal heritage. Today, over 450 communal-era buildings stand in the seven villages and attract visitors from all over.
High Amana, IA - General Store
Middle Amana, IA - Church
West Amana, IA - Barn
Built between 1865 and 1869, this mill race runs seven miles to the Iowa River, providing waterpower to the Amana Colonies mills.
Amana, IA - Railroad Depot
The Heritage Museum in Amana gives visitors a great history, photographs and displays of Amana Communal life.
The Amana Woolen Mill has been in operation since 1855 and continues to operate today.
A Washhouse outside the Heritage Museum in Amana.
A Washhouse outside the Heritage Museum also houses an outhouse... inside the washhouse.
Middle Amana, IA - Lily LakeThe well-known Lily Lake between Amana and Middle Amana was formed about 1880 when a break in the Mill Race levee flooded a low slough area. The lake derives its name from the thousands of yellow American lotus lilies which bloom across the 170-acre lake in the summertime, for which it has become famous.
The well-known Lily Lake between Amana and Middle Amana was formed about 1880 when a break in the Mill Race levee flooded a low slough area. The lake derives its name from the thousands of yellow American lotus lilies which bloom across the 170-acre lake in the summertime, for which it has become famous.
Yep, those Amana washers and dryers from Whirlpool are built here.
Amana, IA - Ackerman Winery
East Amana, IA - Barns
In Amana, you can enjoy many shops, stores and a museum, and of course some great German cuisine. Other colonies have museums as well, and some general stores. It's a good stop for history, and enough to see that you should plan for an entire day in the area at the least. Depending on your pace, and your pallet, you may consider two.
We had a great time in Amana Colonies, parking our travel trailer at Amana Colonies RV Park just outside of Amana. Wonderful setup, in the midst of cornfields, which we will review on RV Park Reviews HERE.
Kathy & Dave
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