Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Amana Colonies

Our first "primary" destination on this journey through the upper-midwest is Amana Colonies in Iowa.  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 1700's Germany, with both maintaining that the Lutheran Church neglected the spiritual needs of the congregation by getting to 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 1800's, Germans took comfort in religion and once again the True Inspirationist's 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 it's 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 backing of Metz, they adopted a constitution in 1846 that established a permanent communal system.

Reaching a population of 1,200 by 1854, Ebenezer 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.

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 opportunity in their assignments, working in craft shops, mills, farms, and some educated as doctors and pharmacists.

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.

Amana's woolen and calico factories, among the first in Iowa, were known throughout the U.S. for superior quality. By the early 1900's 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.

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 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.

We had a great time in Amana Colonies, parking our travel trailer at Amana Colonies RV Park just outside of Amana.  Wonderful set up, in the midst of corn fields, which we will review on RV Park Reviews HERE. 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.

You can see our adventure at Amana Colonies through images in our Photo Blog HERE.  Additional reading about Utopia's in America can be found HERE.

1 comment:

jon bear said...

I really love the idea behind your blog. I enjoy traveling to new places and writing about it on my blog.

What I like best with your blog is the historical background and historical focus your family provides. That's something missing from my posts about my travels.

Best of luck with the rest of the trip. I'll enjoy reading about it.

I'm also writing to tell you I've nominated your blog for the Liebster Award @

I realize you're busy now on your travels, but at some point if you get the chance and choose to accept the award's challenge. I look forward to reading that too. ---- Jon