[graphic] Link to the List of Sites [graphic] Link to other Itineraries [graphic] Link to the National Register Homepage [graphic] Link to NR Home
 [graphic] Link to the Amana Colonies Homepage  [graphic] Link to the Main Map   [graphic] Link to the Learn More section   [graphic] Link to NR Home

[graphic header] The Amana Colonies: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary of a unique historic communal society in eastern Iowa

[graphic] Communal Amana

[Historic photo]
Historic view of the village of Amana on a Sunday during the early 20th century
Photograph from "The Amana Colonies," printed by the Amana Society in 1974

After investigating sites in Kansas and Iowa, the True Inspirationists selected a location along the Iowa River valley about 20 miles west of Iowa City, Iowa for the relocation of their community. This site offered extensive timberland, quarries for limestone and sandstone and long stretches of prairie filled with rich, black soil. Construction of the first village began in the summer of 1855 and the new settlement was named "Amana," meaning "believe faithfully." Community members moved to Amana over the next ten years as they gradually sold parcels of the Ebenezer property. A new constitution was adopted as the Community of True Inspiration took on the legal identity of the Amana Society. This new constitution essentially retained the communal system which had been developed in Ebenezer.

[Historic photo]
Historic image of Amana women preparing vegetables at the Ruedy Küche, 1926, now the Communal Kitchen Museum
Photograph courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society

All members of the community shared in its economic success. The community provided each family with a home and all necessities of life. No one received a cash income. Rather, everyone was given an annual purchase allowance at the general store where goods were priced at cost. Medical care was provided free by the community. In return, each person was expected to work and was assigned a job by the community Elders based on the needs of the community as well as the talents of the individual. Nearly all women, starting at about age 14, worked in the communal kitchens and gardens. Women also tended to laundry, sewing and knitting and a few worked at the woolen mills. Men's jobs were far more varied. Young men might learn to work in one of the many craft shops, in the mills, or on the farms. Some men were sent outside the community to be educated as doctors or pharmacists.


[Photo]
An example of agricultural buildings and barns clustered together at the edge of a village
Photograph from "The Amana Colonies," printed by the Amana Society in 1974
By the 1860s the Amana Colony, as it came to be known, consisted of over 20,000 acres of land on which seven villages had been established. The villages were spaced just a few miles apart, roughly in the shape of a rectangle, and were named according to their location: West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, East Amana and Middle Amana, in addition to the original village of Amana. The town of Homestead, little more than a few buildings, was purchased by the Inspirationists so that they could have a depot on the new railroad line.

Amana villages each consisted of 40 to 100 buildings. The barns and agricultural buildings were always clustered at the village edge. Orchards, vineyards and gardens encircled the villages. Typical houses were rectangular two-story buildings of wood post-and-beam construction, brick, or sandstone. Each village had its own church, school, bakery, dairy, wine cellar, craft shops and general store. There were also a number of communal kitchens in each village where groups of about 30-40 people ate their meals.

[Photo]
West Amana's first church, built in 1862, is an example of that villages prevalent sandstone buildings
Photograph by Shannon Bell

Although all Amana villages are similar, each has its distinctive aspects. The original village of Amana, for example, is reminiscent of a German town with its meandering main street and side streets. On the other hand, the last village built--Middle Amana--displays a very American square block layout. South Amana is known for its predominance of brick construction--boasting even a brick granary and chicken house; in West Amana and High Amana sandstone buildings prevail. Tiny East Amana was not much more than an agricultural outpost, while Amana hummed with industry. The railroads' influence on the villages is evident in Homestead's single street and the bipartite nature of (upper and lower) South Amana.

The Amana settlement pattern of seven villages allowed the Inspirationists to easily access all their farm land (albeit at the cost of inefficiencies due to the need for a multiplicity of machinery and craft shops). Just as importantly it avoided a large urban setting which they felt encouraged immorality. Still, the network of small villages maintained an overall unity and kept everyone close to the spiritual leadership.


[Historic photo]
Amana Calico Mill in the 1890s
Photograph courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society

The Inspirationists established mills and shops according to their old-world skills. Amana's woolen and calico factories were among the first in Iowa and quickly gained a national reputation for superior quality goods. The Inspirationists did not avoid the use of new technologies and in fact are known to have contributed innovations of their own to the textile industry. By 1908, the two woolen mills (in Amana and Middle Amana) were producing about a half-million yards of fabric a year and the calico factory printed 4,500 yards of its famous cloth each day. Two flour mills (in West Amana and Amana) processed the community's own small grains as well as those of neighboring farmers. Crops of potatoes and onions were shipped to Midwest markets. Profits from the mills and farms was used to purchase goods from outside the community.

[Historic photo]
Homestead Community Church, c. 1900, the center of village life
Photograph courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society

Of course, for the Inspirationists all this economic activity was subordinate to their religious purpose, to live a godly and pious life. To assist them in this, church services were held 11 times a week: every evening, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, and Sunday afternoon. The Community also observed Easter, Christmas and other Christian holidays. In addition, the Inspirationists in Amana held several special services during the year. Of these, the annual renewal of the covenant between each member and the community, and Liebesmahl (Holy Communion) were the most important. Liebesmahl was actually held at times determined through inspiration until the death of Metz in 1867 and thereafter usually every other year. An Unterredung or yearly spiritual examination was held over several months with the Elders visiting each village in turn. Each member of the community came before the Elders and was questioned regarding his/her spiritual condition and admonished to lead a more pious life.

The church Elders, always men, comprised the leadership in the community. During the time of the Werkzeuge, Elders were chosen through inspiration. The Elders conducted the church services in each village. Some Elders were chosen as Trustees who managed the economic aspects and daily life of the villages. Up to this level each village functioned independently. Collectively, the villages were governed by a Board of Trustees, 13 Elders elected by the adult members of the community. This board directed the overall affairs of the community. Following the death of Barbara Heinemann Landmann, the last Werkzeug, in 1883, the elders and Trustees functioned for nearly 50 years without the support of divine authority. They showed a remarkable degree of flexibility to allow communal Amana to become one of America's longest-lived communal societies.

 

 [graphic] Link to the Utopias in America essay  [graphic] Link to Origins of the Colonies essay  [graphic] Link to Communal Amana essay  [graphic] Link to Amana Colonies Today essay

 

Colonies Home | Map | List of Sites | Learn More | Itineraries | NR Home | Next Essay

 

Comments or Questions


JPJ

[graphic] Link to the National Park Service website