Continuing ever west-ward, Iowa was the second state that we’d not visited on our east-ward trip (Michigan so far being the other one).
Again we were mostly in farming country, and I do have to say that the corn fields lost their charm in a very short while.
But we arrived at a place called Amana Colonies – a National Historic Site – and immediately decided we needed an extra day here. The Amana Colonies are comprised of seven small villages, that were originally seven colonies of German immigrants of a belief called Inspirationism. Now there’s a new one! They’re not Anabaptists, not Amish, not Hutterites – a completely separate group of Christian believers, who are non-denominational.
Here’s a recap of their story, taken from the literature we had, and from a discussion with one of their members.
Apparently in 1714, a Lutheran pastor and a son of another Lutheran pastor in Germany, met and agreed that Christians can communicate directly with God and live by divine inspiration. They preached their beliefs and so began a following. As with other non-conformist groups, they experienced religious persecution, and in the early 1800s a group emigrated to the US, eventually purchasing land in Iowa. Part of their belief was a simplicity of lifestyle similar to Amish and Quaker, but they did not resist the advancement of technology in their businesses and on their farms. They formed a cooperative, communal lifestyle, where everybody worked for the common good, and in turn had all their needs met including medical and dental care.
By the 1920s, with an encroaching world around them, there was beginning to be some restlessness – a desire by some to have their own money, to own a car and a home, to get an education. They lost membership because of this, and with some disastrous events including the Depression, 1930 saw the commune with huge debt. Discussions ensued – and by 1932, the commune was dissolved.
With the dissolution of the commune came independence for each adult, but they agreed to form a corporation with every adult given shares reflective of the number of years’ service in the commune. With these shares, they had the ability to purchase their home. Everybody worked for the corporation for a wage, and children went to a nearby high school (up to then, they educated their children to Grade 8, just as the Amish do today). Houses were gradually electrified, and every day clothing became that of regular society. They still wear their traditional garb of dark clothing, with caps and capes for the women, to their services on Sunday.
The church formed a separate society, maintaining church lands, and having the responsibility to provide for the elderly, infirm and orphans, as well as medical and dental care, and burial.
In 1932 there were nearly 1400 members (not clear from the literature if this included children) – today the church membership is about 350. Interestingly, women have always had a vote in this community, and if they feel so inspired would be given the opportunity to take a leadership role (very progressive for their time).
But the villages – Amana, East Amana, Middle Amana, High Amana, West Amana, South Amana and Homestead – are a preservation of the history of these people. By the way, Amana means ‘remain faithful’, and was chosen from Scripture because of its meaning for the name for their commune.
We spent a day driving through the villages, taking in the architecture and soaking up the history. Disappointingly some of the non-commercial venues were closed to public access, so we could only see the outside of the buildings.
They brewed their own beer and made their own wine. The wine-maker was a central figure, as each commune member received an annual allotment of wine. Today there are several wineries and one brewery:
Grizz sampled the beer, while I tasted their orange cream soda. And then we picked up some fruit wines, including Dandelion Blossom wine. Yummy!
Quilting and needle work, basketry and rug-making were very much a part of their lives. Samples of local crafts are on display in the Visitors’ Center, which is in an old corn crib:
The Meat Market was fascinating – and had meats hanging in the old ‘smoking room’:
One of the General Stores has been completely preserved in its original state – complete with tin ceilings, glass display cases, an old ice cream freezer, and a post office in the corner:
|I was particularly fascinated with the spool of fabric strips (3rd on the right), which was used when they crocheted their rugs. The sign says ‘no this is not a lampshade’.|
Brick was used for most of their buildings, including houses, but we noted a difference from large yellowish bricks to smaller red bricks similar to what we see today we think indicating somewhat the ages of the buildings – and none of the old buildings were small. Here are some pictures of houses – we didn’t glean from the literature if the houses were multi-family or not:
The communal kitchen was closed, except for tours, but we could imagine the 300 or so folks all coming together for their meals in just one of these buildings – there were five, I believe when the commune was active. Interestingly, elderly women and those with young children at home didn’t participate in the cooking of these large meals, and there were not kitchens or dining rooms in any of the houses, so when the commune was dissolved, houses had to be restructured to include kitchens, and many women had to learn again how to cook.
There was a chocolate ‘haus’, a leather shop, blacksmith shop, a couple of quilt shops – too much to show it all to you. You just might have to plan a trip to see it all for yourselves!
It was a wonderful couple of days, learning a piece of German and American history that we’d never heard before.
Happy exploring! Blessings, Peg