The Amana Colonies have an interesting history. German Inspirationists were persecuted for their religion in their native land. That, combined with a poor economy, forced them to flee to the United States in the 1840s, settling initially in Buffalo, New York, and then moving in 1855 to the Iowa River valley when more farmland was needed to support their community. Their community consisted of seven villages, a mile or two apart, that they named Amana, a word from the Song of Solomon that meant “remain faithful.”
The Amana Colonies would become one of America’s longest-lived and largest religious communal societies.
In the seven villages, residents received a home, medical care, meals, all household necessities and schooling for their children. Property and resources were shared. Men and women were assigned jobs by their village council of brethren. No one received a wage. No one needed one.
Farming and the production of wool and calico supported the community, but village enterprises, everything from clock making to brewing, were vital, and well-crafted products became a hallmark of the Amanas. Craftsmen took special pride in their work as a testament of both their faith and their community spirit. The Amana villages became well known for their high quality goods.
The unhurried routine of life in old Amana was paced very differently than today. Amana prayer meetinghouses, located in the center of each village, built of brick or stone, have no stained glass windows, no steeple or spire, and reflect the ethos of simplicity and humility. Inspirationists attended worship services 11 times a week; their quiet worship punctuating the days.
Over 50 communal kitchens provided three meals daily to Colonists. These kitchens were operated by the women of the Colony and well supplied by the village smokehouse, bakery, ice house and dairy as well as huge gardens, orchards and vineyards maintained by the villagers.
The Great Depression ended the communal way of living. The history was well preserved, though, and in 1965, the Amana Colonies were declared at National Historic Landmark. Communal kitchens are now restaurants, and high quality handicrafts are still made in the area. Although they don’t attend 11 services a week, men and women still enter the churches through distinct doorways and sit in separate pews.
I highly recommend taking the walking tour of Amana. It’s just $7 for adults ($2 for children). There are also beer and wine events and food sampling tours. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll enjoy discovering the historical aspects of communal life, architecture, and agriculture of the area.