Discover a little slice of Germany right in America's heartland just off Interstate 80
While you're traveling on interstate 80 through Iowa, you'll want to make sure you turn at Exit 225. You'll drive only a few miles until you get to a group of villages that allow you step back into 19th century America, where you'll be able to smell fresh bread baking and sample authentic German cuisine. You've arrived at one of the most peaceful communities in America. Willkommen to the Amana Colonies.
The Handcrafted Escape
The folks of the Amana Colonies are obviously proud of their community, and they should be. They've been living here since 1855 without a great deal of change. A group of settlers came to America in the early 1800s to escape religious persecution in Germany. They initially created a community near Buffalo, New York, but as the community grew, they realized they needed more space. America's great Midwest was not nearly as industrialized or crowded as the northeast, so in 1855, they purchased 26,000 acres of fertile farmland and moved the entire community to Iowa.
Once in Iowa, they created a communal society in which everyone worked and shared their goods within the community. They established seven villages, Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana and Homestead. Each village is only two miles from the other. Their plan was to be completely self-sufficient by utilizing the crafts and skills they brought with them from Germany.
The community thrived for over 80 years, and then, as the Great Depression shook the United States' economy, members of the Amana Colonies realized change must come in order to remain viable. So in 1932, the communal way of life ceased, but what remains for visitors today is a heritage that can't be compared to any other.
Visitors to the Amana Colonies
Once you arrive, you'll notice how welcome you feel. No matter what you want to do, you'll find it here. Golf courses, RV parks, museums and fine eating all make up the Amana Colonies of today. But part of the charm is being able to see the past, and the residents cherish it. There are over 450 original buildings to visit. Each has its own story and will keep you busy for days.
Have you ever seen how wool was made? You can in Amana. Some of the original settlers were skilled wool makers. Two wool-manufacturing mills in Germany helped to fund the move to America in the early 1800's. Those skills traveled with the settlers and today make some of the finest wool in America. You can tour Iowa's only wool mill and purchase an Iowa-made wool blanket that will bring warm memories to your home for years to come.
The largest industry in the Amana Colonies probably already has a place in your home. That's right, Amana Refrigeration was founded here. A lot of people over the age of 50 remember their Amana refrigerators. In 1934, the first beverage cooler was made for an Iowa businessman. The cooler was produced at the Middle Amana Woolen Mill. Decades later, the mill changed over to refrigeration and today the Amana name still carries with a ring of quality refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners and other household appliances. A drive past the factory and you'll see the original brick smoke stack from the woolen mill rising above the modern buildings of today's industry.
Because the biggest part of the Amana Colonies of the present is a direct reflection from the past, you would expect museums, and you'd be right. The Amana Colonies have over a dozen museums preserving the agricultural heritage of the area. You can also step into a general store of the past, a blacksmith's shop, a barn museum, and a communal kitchen and take a free tour of the Amana Furniture Shop.
Most of the residents are direct descendents of the original settlers. What this means is that the skills and trades of those artisans still thrive in Amana. Art galleries, clock shops and hand-made quilts are in ample supply. You should plan a day just to shop in the more than 50 unique shops, where you'll be able to find gifts for everyone on your list.
Food and Beverages
Germans are known for beer, and you won't be disappointed when you wonder into Amana's very own microbrewery. Another art the folks in Amana have picked up is the craft of wine making. Six wineries dot the landscape with their own unique varietals using the old-style techniques to bring quality to wines that will be sure to satisfy your palette.
Authentic German cuisine is served up throughout the Amana Colonies. Dine in turn-of-the-century buildings sampling home-style potatoes, gravies, meats and salads. Make sure you leave room for dessert, because, after all, there are no "processed" desserts in Amana, just homemade deliciousness.
While you're here, make sure you stop by one of the many specialty food shops. You can get samples of freshly smoked sausage, authentic German chocolate or finely aged cheese and jelly. The Amana Colonies also still offer a daily farmers market where fresh veggies, handmade crafts and, home-style baked goods are sold.
For More Information:
Amana Colonies Visitors Center
Iowa Tourism Office