The history of the Amana Colonies is one of America’s longest-lived communal societies which began in 1714 in the villages of Germany and continues to live on the Iowa praire.
A short history of the Amana colonies
The people who came from Germany to live in the United States were known as the “Community of True Inspiration”. They broke away from the Luthern Church in 1714. They were being persecuted for their beliefs. They first found refuge in Ronnebery Castle in central Germany. They still felt that they could not live a happy and productive life. Thye left Germany between the years of 1843-1844.
The first place they came to was Buffalo, New York. They lived a communal life. They did not own their own property or businesses. Property and resources were shared. No one received a wage. Their biggest business was farming, production of wool and calico, clock making, brewing (yes, they did drink), and well-crafted furniture, and other farm tools.
Buffalo began to get too crowded for their farming needs. Men from the commune were sent out to look for a place in the US that would provide them with more land. They soon landed in Iowa and bought 26,000 acres of farm land. They sent messages to the group in Buffalo and closed everything and moved to Iowa. The move was complete by 1855.
The communal way of life ended in 1932. The people wanted to achieve individual goals and make money. Private enterprise exists in the Amana Colonies. This is apparent in the many hotels, restaurants, coffee houses, ice cream shops, and the numerous antique shops. The Amana church continues to be the main religion in the Amana Colonies.
The Amana Colonies are not and have never been Amish.
The first fact the people who live in the Amana Colonies want everyone to know is that they are not Amish and are not related to the Amish. There are some similarities. They both came from Germany because they were being persecuted for their religions. The Amana colonies have always adapted to technology and the most advanced techniques for farming. They have telephones, drive cars, and use computers. They drink alcohol. You can only find the Amana Colonies in Iowa.
The Amish reject all kinds of technology and advanced techniques for farming. They have never lived a commune type of life. They help each other, but own their own homes and have their own businesses. The Amish live throughout the US. The Amish continue to dress in the traditional way. The people who live in the Amana Colonies dress like everyone else. You would not be able to tell a tourist from a resident in the Amana Colonies.
There are six villages in the Amana Colonies
The six villages are Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, and Middle Amana.
They are very close to each other and have the same beliefs and regulations. These villages were created because of the communal style that existed at the beginning. It was much easier to service small groups of people than larger groups. Each village was responsible for taking care of those in their village.
All meals were eaten in a communal kitchen
The women were in charge of the cooking. Each day a different family, the wife and her daughters, would cook the meals of the day. People ate five times a day. Three main meals and two snacks. Everyone had ten minutes to eat and move out of the kitchen for the next group of people to come in. Most of the meals included soup, bread, and some cheese. Only small pieces of meat were eaten.
The meals were served at 6:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m and 5:30 p.m. Snacks were served at 8:30 and 11:30. You could not eat in your home. If someone in your family were sick and not able to come to the table, you were allowed to take food to them. No food was allowed to leave the kitchen. There was no talking allowed during the meals.
Strangers were also welcomed to come and eat. At this time there were hobos who wandered the country and they were welcomed at these communal tables.
Typical menu for the week
Women and children ate after the men had finished their meal.
Half of the dining room
Everyone belonged to the same church and followed the same rules.
Alchohol was not prohibited by the Amana Colony Community.
The only church in the Amana Colonies
People from all six villages come to service in one church. The church is very simple. There are no stained glass windows, religious statues, a cross, or paintings on the wall. They believe that people should not be distracted in the church. The benches are made of pine and very hard to sit on for long periods of time. People kneel on the floor at the appropriate times. Heads of women are covered before entering. This tradition could soon come to an end because many young girls don’t want to wear a head covering. I remember being in the fourth grade and refusing to wear a chapel veil on my head to enter the Catholic Church.
Families did not sit together and still don’t. Men and boys sit on one side of the church and women and girls sit on the other side of the church. Services take place twice a day. Most people only attend on Sundays now. The service can last up to two hours.
There is no official baptism for members.
Marriage and dating
Men were not allowed to marry until twenty-five years of age. A man expresses his desire to date a young girl. The parents of both the young man and women meet. The young man is banished to a nearby village and only meets his girlfriend three times for one year. They are able to participate in group dances chaperoned by their parents throughout the year. If everything works out they get married. The records show that 50% of the couples change their minds.
A man expresses his desire to date a young girl. The parents of both the young man and women meet. The young man is banished to a nearby village and only meets his girlfriend privately three times for one year. They are able to participate in group dances chaperoned by their parents throughout the year. If everything works out they get married. The records show that 50% of the couples change their minds.
A typical house were multiple families lived
Weddings are not anything special. They always take place at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. An elder presides over the ceremony. Only the families attend and the couple does not receive any gifts. They don’t exchange rings. The reception after the marriage includes wine, beer, sandwiches and special cakes. Not a wedding cake. They return to their parents home after the wedding until the community finds a room for them. They have no choice in their living space.
In the time of communal living, couples were encouraged to have no more than two children. When a child was born the couple received a “sitting room” in the house. The garden and the cleaning were done by the people living in the house. If a couple wanted to buy something such as furniture or clothing, they had to give a reason for the purchase. The person who was in charge of their living conditions would decide if it was a good reason or not. Money was not exchanged between the people. Everyone had the same amount of credit.
Typical wedding dress that is still worn today
General Stores were not only places that sold goods. They were places to meet and talk with your friends.
In the time of communal life, young girls would go to the general store to get the necessary kerosine, and ingredients to prepare the meals of the day on Friday or Saturday.
The general store in the Amana Colonies
The general store sells everything from candy to flour. It is a place to catch up on the news of the day. As our group walked in to take a look at the general store our tour guide who is a member of the Amana Colony church struck up a conversation about an event that happened the previous week before with the store clerk.
Items sold at the General Store
Jams, marmalade, and jellies are locally made and sold at the general store. Candy is displayed on the front counter for every child to see and buy. Now I know where the supermarkets of today got the idea of candy displays at the checkout counters. Some things never change.
Children’s clothing on display
The Amana colonies celebrate various festivals every year.
- Oktoberfest– Brats, beer, parades, autumn colors, and the feel of Bavaria
2. Prelude to Christmas/Tannenbaum Forest– A forest of live decorated Christmas trees and a 15′ German style pyramid along with Santa Claus
When: Begins the day after Thanksgiving and continues through the weekend prior to Christmas
3. Wurst Festival– Festival of sausages
When: Saturday of Father’s Day
4. Maifest– Famous Maipole dancers with “Art in the Barn” showcasing local and regional artists. Parades, wine, beer, and food walk
When: The first weekend of May
5. Colonies in Bloom– Residents show off their private gardens
When: One day early in the summer and one day late in the summer
Note: No specific dates are given
6. Winterfest– 5k fun run, winter mini-golf, best beard contest, open fire chili, Snowball dance, and a wine and beer walk
When: No specific dates are given
The Amana Colonies is an example of why the United States is such a great place to live. People seeking religious freedom come to the United States to live without the persecution they receive in their countries. This should be something for all of us to think about because there are people seeking the same freedom who are not allowed to come to the US now. This is not good.