Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Amana Colonies - In Search of Religious and Personal Freedom


The 'idea' and 'ideals' of the Amana Colonies started way back in 1714 in Germany by Eberhard L. Gruber and Johann F. Rock, who had become displeased with the Lutheran Church.  Believing that God talks through those with the gift of inspiration, called an instrument (Werkzeug in German), thought to be used as a tool of God's will to speak directly to his people.  Similar to a "prophet" in the more widely known Mormon religion which has a prophet to lead the church. 

They spread their beliefs through Germany, Switzerland, and the Dutch Republic, and became known as the Community of True Inspiration.  Followers were called Inspirationalists.  They faced opposition of the governments of the German states, and adherents were imprisoned, flogged, and stripped of their possessions. To escape persecution, they moved to the Hesse area of Germany, and theirs numbers grew.  In the 1830s, they leased a large area of land as a refuge for the Community in first Ronneburg, then from the Arnsburg Abbey, managing all of their land holdings in common. It was at these estates that the philosophy of communal life began to grow within the Community, and by the late 1830s, the Community was prospering.

The government levied harsher fines and rents against the Community, and the leaders decided that they had to find a new home, and they started to arrive in New York by the end of October, 1842. They purchased 5,000-acres near Buffalo, New York.  By 1854 they needed a larger tract of land, and the move to Iowa took place.  They first set up the community of Amana, and under Iowa law, the Community had to incorporate as a business, so the Amana Society was founded as the governing body in 1859. Eventually East Amana, Middle Amana, High Amana, West Amana and South Amana were created under the Amana Society.  In 1861 the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad built a railroad station in nearby Homestead, and the Amana Society bought Homestead from the Rock Island Railroad, and it became the seventh community of the Amana Colonies.

As they did in Germany, the community lived a communal life.  The Great Council of the Brethren oversaw the affairs and conduct of the Amana Society, and served as the high court of the Community.  Each village was governed by a group of seven to nineteen elders, and decisions were made for each village from these elders each led by one of the Council of the Brethren. Each community member was provided with an annual sum, with men receiving $40 to $100 a year depending on their career, women receiving $25 to $30 a year, and parents of children receiving an additional $5 to $10 per child.  They were expected to spend this money in the Society stores and businesses...not from outsiders.  They all ate in communal kitchens, kids went to communal schools which were open 6 days a week all year long.  Part of the schooling including working in the agriculture businesses...the farm, the ranch, sorting vegetables, stuff like that.  Each community had a church which was connected to the Amana Church, a denomination all its own, but similar in teachings to the Lutherans.

In 1931, due to the Great Depression, the communal living was changed so that the non-profit Amana Church Society oversaw the spiritual needs of the community, while the for-profit Amana Society was incorporated as a joint-stock company.  It is like this today, except people can now own their own business if they choose.

Now that the background information has been provided, lets look at the community today.

The Ronneburg Restaurant, above, was a communal kitchen for the colony for many years until it first opened as a restaurant in 1950

The Ox Yoke Inn serving "Family Style" in a home that was built in 1856.

The Ackerman Winery is the oldest operating winery in the state of Iowa, started in the basement of the home of Harry and Louisa Ackerman in 1956.

The Hotel Millwright has 65 guest rooms, 2 suites, a Restaurant and 2 bars with a 7,000 sq. ft. conference center.  Once part of the 8-acre woolen mill complex it was the industrial center of the village of Amana. Textiles for Amana’s residents and to sell across the country, gaining a national reputation for superior woolens sine 1855. It is Iowa’s only remaining textile mill, and keeps the community strong, producing woven goods with the same set of standards in the original century and a half old building where it all began.

The Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse has been handcrafting meats since 1855. Using skills and recipes brought from the Old World, influenced by German heritage and Midwest traditions.  We bought some items from here for dinner and it was good.

Hahn's Hearth Oven Bakery, located in Middle Amana, continues to bake breads and pastries in the original wood-fired stone hearth that has been in the building since it was built in 1864.

The Middle Amana Church Building is part of the Amana Church established in Germany in 1714 and was first known as “the Community of True Inspiration".  This church building appears to have built in the late-1800's, and is currently the largest church building within the colonies now.  It offers services in German at 8:30, and in English at 10:00 each Sunday.

The South Amana post office was established June, 1874, and is now one of the two that continues to operate in the Amana colonies.  No idea how old this building is, but my guess is it was not always a post office.

Zubers Homestead Hotel built in 1862 consisting of 15 rooms and 1 bathroom upstairs, with a large kitchen, dining room, and residence downstairs.  April 11, 1890, there was a strong south wind, caused a chimney fire which destroyed the entire upper floor.  The hotel was rebuilt by the fall of 1890.  It is not owned by the Amana Society.

This is just a portion of the many historic buildings, all covered by the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and U.S. National Historic Landmark Districts.  Amana has always been the largest colony, and the one that had the most was and is the heart of the Amana Colonies.  What follows are just a few of the homes and places found within each colony.


East Amana

Middle Amana

High Amana

West Amana

South Amana


The Amana Society owns and manages some 26,000 acres of farm, pasture and forest land. (The land was not divided up with the end of communalism along with over 450 communal-era buildings within the seven colonies.)  Amana Farms is home to Iowa’s largest privately held forest.  George C. Foerstner started the Electric Equipment Company in 1934.  It was sold to the Amana Society in 1936.  In 1947, the company produced the first commercial upright freezer, and 2 years later, they sold off the Electrical Department to an investment group organized by Foerstner and renamed Amana Refrigeration.  Raytheon Corporation purchased Amana Refrigeration in 1965, and they (Amana) produced the first practical commercial microwave oven in 1967. Sold to Goodman Global in 1997 and then sold to Maytag in 2001, it became part of the Whirlpool Corporation when it purchased Maytag in 2006.  They still have a plant in the area.

Around 1,600 people still live within the colonies, but you don't have to belong to the church to live there.  Most live in Amana and Middle Amana, while East Amana only has around 50 people living there.  Tourism, of course, is very important to the Colonies, and includes the RV Park, a Golf Club, and, as you can see, tourism, mostly in Amana.  

PS: If you are looking for horse drawn buggies, that is the AMISH...these folks are not Amish, and have endorsed technology at every step.  After all...why would a Amish person develop a stand-up Freezer/Fridge???


  1. Interesting history. They made a good freezer ... that's what we had on the ranch.

    1. It is a hard working, friendly community. Hard to tell who "lives" the Amana life, and who is there just to work (workcamp) or live (outsider coming into the community). Although some buildings are showing decay...those not being used...everything is clean and we felt very safe the entire time we were there...and we saw ZERO police.


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