The Amana Colonies were founded by Germans who had left their Buffalo, NY homes to find a better life in the Midwest. This religious group founded seven communal villages which by design were one hour by ox cart from one another. In the communal village culture, the community owned all of the buildings and land, with residents contributing to the village through their work effort. Communal schools, kitchens, and churches existed in each village to support those who resided there. With the depression came, question as to whether or not their communal lifestyle was still viable. A vote was taken in 1932 to dissolve the communal system. Many of the original buildings remain in tact today and are open for visitors to gain a glimpse into what it was like to live in the Amana Colonies during the early 20th century.
There are seven communities that make up what is known today as the Amana Colonies: South Amana, West Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, East Amana, Homestead and Amana. Many of the communities are very small with little in the way of visitors’ sites, with a majority of the interesting shops and artisans in Amana. The Amana Heritage Society features seven historical sites which may be visited individually or as part of a complete tour package. Because we visited early in April, many of the buildings were not yet open season. More information about hours of operation and fees can be found at: www.amanaheritage.org.
Because there is so much to see and do in Amana, I will feature that village in a separate review. This review will highlight the South, West, and Middle Amana villages.
As you leave I80 for the Amana Colonies Loop Road (Rt. 220), you will have a choice of which direction to go. We choose to visit South and West Amana first. South Amana features a handful of original buildings including those that today are the Mini-Americana Barn Museum and the Communal Agricultural Museum. The Communal Agricultural Museum is one of the oldest museums in the colonies and features farming tools and implements from the era. Photographs also tell the story of the Nation’s largest communal farm here in Iowa.
In West Amana we enjoyed our time at the Broom & Basket Shop and the Wood Shop. In the Broom & Basket Shop the woman at the main counter was weaving a picnic basket while an older gentleman was teaching a young girl how to make a witch’s broom. It was very interesting to watch him help her to make her very own broom! (See the photo attached to this review.) We then went next door to see Iowa’s largest walnut rocking chair . . . and my was it huge! You can see David sitting up in the chair in the attached photo. It has over 300’ of walnut and weighs nearly 700 pounds and took 75 hours to make. In the shop there were a lot of very nice handmade wooden crafts and household items including picture frames, kitchen implements like rolling pins, and cutting boards and some lovely end tables. Children of all ages could have fun playing with and trying to put together the wooden jigsaw puzzles.
From West Amana we headed over to Middle Amana which for our April visit was a bit of a bust. Hahn’s Original Hearth Oven Bakery had already sold out their day’s goods and were closed by 1pm. Next door the Communal Kitchen and Copper Shop was still closed for the season scheduled to reopen Memorial Day weekend. The Communal Kitchen last served a community meal in 1932 and has been preserved to what it looked like when that last meal was served there. Part of the Amana Heritage Society, a guided tour is offered to visitors to tell stories of what living in the Amana Colonies was like during its communal living era.
We did not visit East Amana as we were told there are no public buildings or shops there. We also did not have time to venture down to Homestead, where there are several more of the Amana Historical Society sites including the Amana Community Church Museum, the Homestead Blacksmith Shop, and the Homestead Store Museum. Again all of these sites along the seven stop tour reopen Memorial Day weekend and welcome visitors throughout the summer until mid to late September.
I hope that we will have the opportunity to visit Amana Colonies again this summer when more of the buildings, museums and exhibits are open to the public.