Amana Colonies

Welcome back everyone! This week we had some special visitors in town! My parents, Dave and Risa, came to visit us from Colorado! We wanted to take them somewhere cool and semi-close to home, so we decided on the history rich, Amana Colonies. The colonies are located about 1 hour 30 min north east of Pella and is a National Historic Landmark.

There are 7 colonies total which include Amana, East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and Homestead. The history of the colonies is very interesting! The community was started by a religious group that called themselves the “Community of True Inspiration”. After experiencing some religious persecution as well as an economic depression in their fatherland of Germany, the “Inspirationists” decided to find a new home. In 1843, they left to the United States and started a community in Buffalo, NY. As the community grew and flourished, they began running out of room and decided to move further west.

In 1855, the group bought 26,000 acres of land in Iowa and they named it Amana which means “remain faithful”. At this point in time, 6 villages were created roughly 1-2 miles apart from one another. They would organize the town in a wheel and spoke style, with all communal farm equipment towards the center of town, then the houses, then the farmland on the outskirts of each village.

Amana was a completely communal living society. They did not use currency within the village, and were discouraged from going out of the community. Children would go to school 6 days a week, year round, until the age of 14. At that time, they would then be told what they would become by the elders. Most boys would learn a trade (woodworking, blacksmith, or farming) however, some were sent to Iowa City to learn things like medicine, pharmaceuticals, and dentistry. The women would normally be assigned to a communal kitchen, help in the gardens, do laundry, mend clothing, or sometimes work with the wool. Every family got a certain amount of goods they were allowed to get from the general store. In order to be a part of this communal society, members had to agree to help where ever necessary as well as attend church services 11 times per week (yes 11 times!!!). They would go to church once on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and 3 times on Sundays! While attending church, the men and women had to sit on opposite sides of the church!

There were 50 communal kitchens throughout the 7 villages, which would serve 3 meals a day as well as 2 snacks. In each of the towns, there was a dairy, smokehouse, bakery, gardens, vineyards and ice house. In 1861, the Homestead village of Amana was added to ensure they had a depot on the railroad.

While the community was fairly self-sufficient, they did sell much of their linens and wool and soon became known for the high quality. In 1923, a fire broke out at the flour mill and soon spread to the Woolen mill. This was a devastating blow to the community. They did not have insurance on the buildings and would have to re-build from scratch. Shortly after this, the nation succumbed to the Great Depression. During this time, farming was less than successful and the decision was made that the community needed to change. At this point they were no longer considered a “communal living” and they established a profit sharing corporation to manage all the farmland and industries that Amana had to offer. It was in everyone’s best interest to change with the times instead of just watch as their children and grandchildren left to pursue different opportunities. Luckily, the history and sense of community still exists and can clearly be seen when talking to residents.

We arrived to Homestead around 11 am and our first stop was the General Store. The building is the original building and was erected in 1858. The store had all kinds of goodies including, salt water taffy, vintage candies, cinnamon roasted almonds and walnuts, and all kinds of other trinkets! Attached to the general store was a year round Christmas store. Boy was Clark in heaven there!! It also had a downstairs that was full of Amana made coffees and teas (and samples as well!).

We headed next into the Fudge and Lace shop! We tried a piece of dark chocolate and salted caramel fudge… Let me tell you… this was probably the best piece of fudge I have ever eaten! It was DELICIOUS! This store had cute little wall signs and a back room filled with beautiful handmade lace items!

Next up was the Amana Heritage Museum. We were warmly greeted by a sweet older lady who explained to us that (usually) there are 3 buildings to explore on the tour. However, when we were there, the 2 outside buildings were closed for repairs. We did however, still get to watch the video on the history of Amana Colonies and included letters and journal entries of some of the first members of this community.

We then headed to the kid store which was awesome! It had all kinds of classic toys as well as new things! Eyra’s favorite was a grocery cart that was just her size! She pushed that thing all over the store! After entertaining our inner children, we then headed to the 2 different winery’s in the town for wine and cheese samples! My two favorites were the strawberry and mango wines. Eyra was very into the cheese samples, so much so, that we had to buy 2 bricks of cheese!

Our next stop was Iowa’s Largest Walnut Rocking Chair!!  As you can see from this picture, Eyra was astounded!!! Her and Babraham couldn’t believe how high up they were. This was probably our favorite stop on the trip because of all the fun stuff in this room! Not only was there the rocker, but they also had wooden drum boxes, many handmade instruments like xylophones and wind chimes that Eyra was allowed to play with, and a very cool wooden golf ball toy. Next door to this is a cute broom shop where you can actually watch a broom maker create the brooms! I channeled my inner Gryffindor and tried to take flight with a Nimbus 2000… but alas, it didn’t work!

Our last stop was the General store in High Amana. This store was also original and still has formed tin ceiling as well as vintage ice cream freezers, product containers and boxes as well. Clark had a fun conversation with 2 very nice and knowledgeable ladies whose grandparents were community members when Amana was still a communal society! Wilhelmina (or Willa as she went by) and Molly Kephart. They were very accommodating and answered any and all questions we could think of. They even let us use their bathroom before we headed home and also let us snap a picture of them as we were leaving.

Overall this was such a fun trip and we were so lucky to have been able to enjoy the company of Dave and Risa on our journey!

What adventure will we take next? Unknown but I am sure it will be exciting!

To be continued…

 

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