Located in Iowa County, Iowa, the Amana Colonies preserve seven historic German Pietist village settlements, which are now known today as tourist areas featuring a variety of restaurants, craft shops, and resort accommodations. The roots of the Amana Colonies trace back to early 18th century Germany, when religious leaders Eberhard L. Guber and Johann F. Rock split from the mainstream Lutheran Church and began a movement known as the New Spiritual Economy, based on the Pietist teachings of Philipp Spener.
Spener’s spiritual philosophy worked under the premise that God continued to speak to humans through prophets with the “gift of inspiration,” known as werkzeugs, which roughly translates as instruments. Rock and Guber proselytized their beliefs throughout Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, gaining a following under the name the Community of True Inspiration. The followers of the religious sect soon faced persecution from the German government due to their refusal to serve in the military and send their children to public school, prompting moves to liberal areas within Germany and eventual fleeing to America in 1842 to seek religious freedom.
The original Inspirationalist settlements in America were established near Buffalo, New York at the site of the Seneca Indian Reservation, which had recently been opened to European settlement. More than 800 members of the Community immigrated to New York throughout the 1840s to the settlement which became known as Ebenezer, and in 1843, a provisional community constitution was drafted for the group, establishing all settlement property as communal. As a result of the community’s success, the 5,000-acre New York settlement became too small to hold its villagers, prompting a group expedition to the newly-acquired Kansas Territory to form a new western settlement branch. Lands near the Iowa River were eventually selected for purchase, and the first village of the new Amana Colonies was established in 1855, named for a German Biblical term roughly translating as “remain faithful.” In 1859, the Amana Society was established to oversee the colony as a central governing body, and a new constitution for the community was drafted.
In 1861, the nearby village of Homestead was purchased by the community, due to its access to the newly-established Mississippi and Missouri Railroad station. The following year, five more villages were constructed, known as South, West, East, High, and Middle Amana. By 1908, the communities’ population had increased to over 1,800, and a number of community businesses and civic resources had been established in each of the seven villages. With the exception of trade commerce with nearby trade centers, the colonies functioned as socially and economically isolated societies until the Great Depression, which caused dire financial conditions within the community. In 1931, societal reorganization known as the Great Change split the colonies’ governing bodies into a nonprofit Amana Church and a for-profit Amana Society joint-stock corporation.
Attractions and Businesses
Today, the Amana Colonies still operate as insular traditional communities, occupying approximately 26,000 acres throughout east-central Iowa’s Iowa County area. In 1965, the Seven Villages of Amana were listed as a National Historic Landmark, ensuring their continued preservation as a historic attraction in the Iowa community. Though colony residents continue to pursue an agriculturally-based communal lifestyle and unique trilingual dialect culture, tourism has become the major outside industry of the colonies, with a large number of independent shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfast facilities offered for area visitors.
More than 450 communal-era historic buildings are preserved throughout the colonies by the Amana Society and other local nonprofit preservation organizations, with a number of buildings operated as living history museums for public tours. The Amana Heritage Society offers a variety of museum exhibits showcasing the colonies’ history, hosted within three historic 19th-century buildings. Other museums in the area include Opa’s Tractor Barn Museum, which showcases Minneapolis-Moline tractors and farm equipment, the Mini-Americana Barn Museum, which holds the country’s largest collection of 1/12-scale miniature replicas, and the Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway, which pays tribute to the area’s sports history.
A wide variety of arts and crafts galleries and workshops are located within the colonies, including the Amana Furniture and Clock Shop, the Broom and Basket Shop, and the Creative Colony, which showcases a variety of local artisans and handcrafted home items. Small independent retailers specialize in goods such as clothing, furniture, home decor, and books, while a number of antique stores offer secondhand historic and vintage finds. Live theater is presented at the Old Creamery Theatre, which offers more than 200 performances per season in a 300-seat venue.
Traditional German-style dining is offered at a number of homestyle restaurants and cafes throughout the colonies, including the Millstream Brau Haus, the Ox Yoke Inn, and the Ronneburg Restaurant. Several breweries and wineries are also offered, including the Ackerman Winery, the oldest operating winery in the state. A variety of accommodations are available throughout the area, including hotels, bed and breakfasts, and a 60-acre full-service campground. Area attractions include the Amana Colonies Golf Club and the Amana Colonies Trails, which offer scenic natural routes for visitor exploration on foot or by bike. Public special events offered throughout the year at the colonies include a spring Maifest celebration, a summer Wurst Festival, an Oktoberfest event, and a holiday Winterfest event.
622 46th Ave, Amana, IA 52203, Phone: 319-622-7622