Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Amana Colonies

Whenever I heard mention of the Amana Colonies of Iowa, I pictured people in Amish garb hunched over refrigerators and stoves carefully assembling these prized appliances. Of course, the question arises: why is a guy who doesn't have electricity in his home assembling electric apppliances? Well, no problem, for as usual, I wasn't even close - there are no Amish in the Amana Colonies. We spent some time here at the Amana Colonies RV Park, in the midst of the seven Amana Colonies, and had the chance to explore each colony and learn how they were established. The colonies were founded in 1855 by German immigrants who were Pietists, a movement within Luthernism, which advocated an emphasis on piety and return to Christian life. First settling in New York, the group, led by Eberhard Gruber and Johann Rock, moved to Iowa to take advantage of the inexpensive land and fertile ground. With 1200 followers, they built the colonies of Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, East, West, and South Amana, and Homestead. The colonies provided a home, medical care, food, and schooling; everything was shared and around 50 kitchens provided meals. They were completely self-sufficient; livestock, orchards, and gardens provided food, and there were craft shops and mills that provided furniture and clothing. By the 1930s, however, a combination of the depression and a desire by the people to achieve individual goals for themselves and their children signaled the end of the communal lifestyle. Today, the colonies are a profit-sharing corporation that manages the mills and other major functions. And yes, there's still an appliance factory here, although it's now owned by the Whirlpool corporation.
Of the colonies, Amana is the largest and is a town of shops, restaurants, and museums. Like so many of these locations, it's become highly commercialized - locally produced crafts sit next to items imported from China, and prices are on the high side. Restaurants featuring German family style cooking are located throughout the village, although our visit to one of them resulted in a pretty ordinary meal. We did find that the smoked meats were a bargain and stocked up on smoked pork chops and bratwurst - just walking past the smokehouse made you hungry! The big attraction here for us was the scenery - beautifully maintained houses from the 1800s, neatly maintained gardens and flower beds, and the gently rolling hills of bright green corn all combine to make this visit enjoyable.
At a shop in West Amana, we found this huge rocking chair. Billed as the "World's Largest Solid Walnut Rocking Chair", it's exactly three times the size of a standard rocker. Our first thought when seeing it was...."Edith Ann", comedian Lily Tomlin's character of a little girl sitting in an adult rocker. As it turns out, when Lily Tomlin was in the area giving a concert, the shop took the chair to her and had pictures of her sitting in it. While Lily wasn't available, Brenda was happy to stand in for her so that you can get an idea of the scale. What's remarkable is the quality of the workmanship - it's a beautiful piece of furniture, even if it is a bit large for our motorhome.
Everywhere we drove in this area we were treated to vistas of beautiful farms and farmland. It's almost calming to see this area; so much beautiful bright green punctuated by white farm houses and red barns. It truly is what you think of as the heartland of America!
Next stop - Northern Iowa/Southern Minnesota and the Mall of America!

No comments:

Post a Comment