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Amana Colonies

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Members of the Amana Society first came to America from southwestern Germany in 1842, settling initially on lands near Buffalo, New York. “After some years … the elders of the community decided to look up a new location where a large area of cheaper land could be obtained, further away from the unpleasant influences of a rapidly growing city like Buffalo.…” 1In 1855 they traveled west and purchased 18,000 acres of land above and below the Iowa River for colonization. The community of Amana was established in 1855, followed by West Amana and South Amana in 1856, High Amana in 1857, East Amana in 1860, Homestead in 1861, Middle Amana in 1862, and New South Amana in 1883. (Several of these will be discussed following the entries for Amana, below.) When established, all of the lands and property were held in common, administered by thirteen elders. This communal approach continued until 1932, when a separation was made between religious and economic (land and production ownership) activities.

In addition to the pursuit of agriculture, the Amana people established a number of manufacturing activities, including gristmills, sawmills, cotton mills, woolen mills, a furniture factory, and several other enterprises. As was mentioned as early as 1875, there is a distinct quality about the towns, farmlands, and buildings of the Amana communities which sets them off from what one considers typical for Iowa. Andreas wrote, “Their towns are well built, the houses being mostly large, many of them being built of brick or stone.” 2Today the communities are oriented in many ways to visitors. At Amana is the Museum of Amana History and the Wool Mill Machine Shop Museum; at Homestead, there is the Amana Art Guild Center, and at South Amana is the Amana Society Historical Agriculture Collection. All of the initial buildings of the 1850s through the 1860s reflect what the colonist had first encountered in upstate New York: the late Federal and the Greek Revival modes. While a selection of buildings is listed below, it is the people themselves, together with their lands and buildings, that create the distinctive, much-admired atmosphere of the place.

Notes

M. Huebinger, Atlas of the State of Iowa, 355.

Alfred Theodore Andreas, Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1875, 477.

Writing Credits

Author: 
David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim

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