"Times past...." Top 5 Page for this destination Amana by leics

Amana Travel Guide: 44 reviews and 100 photos

When we visited Iowa City, my companion was determined to visit the Amana colonies, roughly 17 miles away. So we went. It was a very hot day, we were both still tired from our journey...and I do not think we did justice to the villages. But, even so, if you make one daytrip from Iowa city then exploring the Amana Colonies should probably be it...

There are 7 villages in the Colonies, all established by a group of religious migrants from Germany. They (around 1200 of them) arrived in Iowa in 1855, setting up 6 villages; Amana itself. East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana and Middle Amana (they were clearly stuck for names!). The seventh settlement, Homestead, was added in 1861.

It's important to note that the Amana settlers were *not* Amish: they had no problems with adopting modern technology.

The villages worked on an interesting philosophy. Home, food, medical care, schooling, household necessities..all was provided for residents. There were communal kitchens in each village (50 altogether) which served three meals per day and provided mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. The community farmed and produced wool and calico to support themselves, but there was also a strong ethos of craftmanship and skilled work: everything from clock-making to brewing. Children attended school from 6 until 14...it seems to have been a pretty idyllic way of life.

But the Great Depression destroyed that communal way of life. It was simply seen as no longer feasible, although residents wanted the community to continue. So private enterprise entered the equation...

Now..if I'm being absolutely honest and truthful..the Amana Colonies are pretty much focused on their visitors, with craft shops and antiques, souvenirs and woven goods from the mill, quilts (absolutely superb) and bed & breakfasts, microbrewery and wineries and 'homestyle cooking'. Rather like the Cotswolds villages of the UK.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't visit. The buildings and the layout of the villages remain pretty much the same as they were, the countryside is pretty and it's worth just wandering and exploring to get an idea of how things once were....

We parked by the Windmill House (main photo.. it's pretty old and no-one is quite sure of its purpose) and explored.....

I don't know why we didn't go into the Amana Heritage Museum; it's not like either of us to miss a museum. But somehow we just didn't fancy it.

So we wandered the main street, popping into the Visitor centre for leaflets (and the toilets!), looking at the buildings and, eventually, ending up at the Woolen Mill (the focus of my companion's desire to visit the place).

I must admit that I very much liked the patterns used in the weaving, and thought the prices were very reasonable indeed. So much so that I purchased two cotton blankets/throws: one for my companion's birthday (at her request!) and one for a wedding present. So the mill alone was definitely worth the visit...

I noticed water nearby (the building was originally water-powered) and discovered the rather lovely Amana Millrace, a six-mile-long canal created in the 1860s to power the mill. It's been dredged and sorted out, and there is a walk along its banks...the Kolonieweg..which might be nice to explore. It's only 3 miles long, and is paved most of the way. But it was far too hot to consider walking anywhere very much....

So we wandered back into the village, stopping at the Ox Yoke Inn for something to eat. I had built up great expectations of this place from what I had read online. Perhaps it was the heat, perhaps it was simply that I was tired, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped to do. The food was ok though, and my companion very much enjoyed her rhubarb and custard pie...

The only other place I really wanted to see was the General Store, simply because it is old and I was expecting...well, I was expecting something a little more authentic, if I'm honest. But it is certainly well-stocked with masses and masses of things to buy: sweets and soaps, honeys, preserves, wines, beers, knick-knacks, saltwater taffy (very nice) and goodness knows what else.

If you are looking for history when you visit the Amana villages then, other than the museums and the exterior of some of the buildings, I'm afraid you won't really find much. The villages have their eye on survival, and survival means meeting the desires and needs of their visitors. So if you are looking for things to buy, many of which are of very high quality and really are handcrafted locally, then you will find a vast amount to explore.

My mistake (and one I shall learn from when I revisit the US): I'd expected to find history and instead I found what is largely a shopping opportunity set in an historical context. It's a pleasant place set in a pleasant bit of countryside, and worth a day's exploration...but (according to IC local with whom I spoke) the Amana Colonies are not what they were a couple of decades ago...

But then.... where is?

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Some history to be found, lots of shopping
  • Cons:Lots of shopping
  • In a nutshell:Some history, lots of shopping.
  • Last visit to Amana: Aug 2012
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (6)

Comments (2)

  • Beausoleil's Profile Photo
    Nov 4, 2014 at 2:56 PM

    What fun! We haven't been to the Amana Colonies for nearly 40 years. Sounds like it's changed a LOT. We had our first camping trip there. We used to drive up to get bread at the bakery and it always sold out by 8 AM so having a 3-hour drive, we got up early! One year I bought green buffalo plaid at the Woolen Mill and made all 5 of us lumberjack jackets for Christmas. Was sick of sewing after that one but the jackets lasted for years. Our youngest cycled through all three of the kid-sized jackets. You've brought back many memories. We loved it there.

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Nov 4, 2014 at 10:55 PM

      Thank you! From talking to my Iowan relatives, Amana has indeed changed hugely. I'd certainly have much preferred it a few decades ago but found it an interesting few hours anyway. No doubt it would be even better for those who like to shop! :-)

  • goodfish's Profile Photo
    Sep 22, 2012 at 4:01 AM

    Well done, Me Ducks. Yes, it's a shame that the villages have become so commercialized but truth be told, my part of the country isn't exactly loaded with unique visitor opportunities so they've probably gone a bit off the deep end! :) The community has FOREVER been confused as Amish!!!!

    • roamer61's Profile Photo
      Oct 2, 2013 at 11:13 AM

      Very interesting. There is a 2 page spread on the colonies in a book I have on Historic Sites of America. So I have read some about it.

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Oct 2, 2013 at 11:21 AM

      I fear it has become, for the most part, merely yet another commercial opportunity. But they do make very nice, and reasonably-priced, blankets and there are a few older structures left.


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