What do you think of when you hear the word “Amana?” I used to think of the avocado green refrigerator we had while I was growing up. It was a real upgrade back then! But now that I’ve been to Iowa, I will think of something entirely different when I hear “Amana.”
The word “Amana” means “remains faithful”, and it is the name chosen by a religious group that came to the United States to escape persecution. The group settled in a river valley in Iowa in 1855, creating six villages and living a communal lifestyle. In 1932, the communal lifestyle was abandoned, and the Amana Society was formed. The Amana Society was set up as a profit sharing corporation and still exists today.
The Amana colonies also still exist today; though, there are now seven villages. It is designated as a National Historic Site. The colonies are about 35 minutes west of Sugar Bottom campground where Dan and I were staying. We took a day to explore the area.
From the research I did before our visit, it looked like a visit to the Amana Colonies could involve a lot of shopping with a smidgen of history thrown in. And in fact, the whole time I was there, I kept thinking this would be a perfect “Ladies Trip”, but I wanted a different experience for Dan and I. So, we chose to take a two hour guided tour of The Amana Colonies. This way, we could get an overview and learn more of the area’s history.
The tour started at the Visitor Center in Amana. It cost $20 a person. There were nine of us on the tour; the van can hold up to twelve. Our tour had four stops.
Our first stop was the Amana Heritage Museum in Amana. Here we watched a 20 minute video. If you’re wanting a stamp for your National Parks Passport book, this is the place to get it. In addition to the exhibits, there are three “communal-era” buildings to explore. Our tour left here right after watching the video, so we did not get to see any of it.
Our next stop was in Middle Amana where we visited the only remaining communal kitchen. This kitchen was known as “Ruedy Kitchen” and still offers a communal meal once a month for tourists. Back in the day, no talking was allowed during the meal as it really wasn’t a social event. These days, talking is allowed should you attend a communal meal. Thank heavens!
Our third stop was the General Store in High Amana. The General Store was established in 1857 and has its original tin ceiling, floor and glass display cases. It still functions as a store today, and we were given some time to shop.
Our last stop was the community church building in Homestead. While the church still offers services today, it looks like it did some 130 years ago. Our tour guide explained what church life was like back then. For one thing, folks went to church eleven times a week. Eleven times a week! That is not a typo!
We were glad we took the guided tour as we did learn a lot of the history. Our tour guide talked as she drove us around, and at each stop she explained the history and various facets of what we were visiting. Our tour ended up lasting about two and a half hours.
Exploring on Your Own
As an alternative to the guided tour, you could visit these sites on your own. An $8 fee (18 and up) gets you into the Heritage Museum, the Communal Kitchen and the Community Church Museum. You’ll watch the same movie at the museum and have time to explore it.
You could also explore the area by taking the free audio tour. You drive around and at various points, you call and listen to information about that stop. You actually can call anytime and listen to the recordings. This is actually part of the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway Audio Tour which covers 77 miles and 40 stops. The phone number is 319 213 9003. The stops in the Amana Colonies are numbers 1 through 10. For more information, go to Iowa’s travel website and search for “Scenic Byway.”
And lastly, there is an app you can download to assist in your explorations. We did not use the app.
After our tour, we were ready for a snack. Back at the Visitor Center in Amana, our tour guide suggested we go to the Millstream Brau Haus. This was an excellent suggestion. We walked a few blocks to the Brau Haus, sat on the outside patio and shared a huge, delicious pretzel with beer cheese dipping sauce.
I am going to break my post about our visit to The Amana Colonies into two parts. I have a lot more to say about our visit, and I don’t want this post to get too long. Plus, I’m kind of hungry for a pretzel right now. I hope you will “remain faithful” and return for Part 2.