I’ve recently returned from Oktoberfest in Amana, Iowa—my sixth Oktoberfest! The seven villages known as Amana, South Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, East Amana, West Amana, and Homestead comprise the Amana Colonies and have provided the setting for six of my books. Needless to say, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the villages. With each visit, I learn or see something new.
The Amana Colonies are situated about twenty miles southwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Each year the residents host several festivals, the largest being Oktoberfest, but Maifest, Winterfest and Prelude to Christmas are great fun, as well.
I would suggest a driving tour through all seven villages so that you get a feel for the differences among them. Main Amana is where most of the shopping is concentrated, (I sign books each year at the General Store during Oktoberfest) but there is also a wonderful General Store in High Amana, and you’ll discover basket weaving and woodworking shops nestled among some of the other villages—as well as the largest rocking chair I’ve ever seen!
After fleeing Europe due to religious persecution, the original members settled in an area around Buffalo, New York in 1842 and named those villages Ebenezer. The idea was that all property would be held in common, but then eventually divided among the people based on their contribution. However the leaders quickly saw the flaw in that plan with disparities in wealth and skills, and with backing of their leader, Christian Metz, they adopted a constitution in 1846 that established a permanent communal system. Needing additional land for their growing membership, they settled upon land in Iowa and began their move in 1855.
In 1932, members separated the church from the business enterprises, creating a joint-stock company, and abandoned communalism. The Amana Society Inc. still controls about 26,000 acres of land, and because the land was not divided up, the landscape still reflects its communal heritage.
Today, over 450 communal-era buildings stand in the seven villages, and provide visitors with a glimpse into the unique lifestyle of the Amana people. Upon my very first visit, I knew I wanted to write about these wonderful people and the community they established and have maintained throughout the years.
The Amana Society has maintained wonderful historical archives so be sure to take time and visit the Amana Heritage Museum. If it is your first visit, stop at the Visitor Center in Main Amana before you begin your tour of the villages. Make certain you check the website at www.amanacolonies.com for operating hours—especially during the winter months.
Judith Miller is an award-winning author whose avid research and love for history are reflected in her bestselling novels. When time permits, Judy enjoys traveling, visiting historical settings and scrapbooking the photographs from her travel expeditions. She makes her home in Topeka, Kansas.
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