Circus Trip 2018: Amana Colonies


Day 19, Friday, August 3, 2018

After my second respite in just a few days, I was fully recharged and ready to resume the trip.  My destination for the day was the Amana Colonies.  Yes, that Amana, as in Amana appliances.

The Amana Colonies are the home of a group of German Pietists who fled persecution in their native Germany to settle near Buffalo, NY.  Eventually they moved to Iowa in 1856.  They brought their craftsmanship with them from Europe, and for over 80 years, they maintained an almost completely self-sufficient economy, with a division of labor among the community members.

Me in a German style hat

The society tried to maintain everything as equally as possible within the society by not using money, and not using products that came from outside the community.  Men and women were considered equal, but interestingly, marriage and child-bearing were discouraged, which obviously had an impact on future generations of colony members.

There are seven towns in the community – the total population of the seven is around 2,000 as of the 2010 census.  The colony founded the Amana Corporation, which manufactures refrigerators and other appliances to sell outside the community; it was this business that generated the money that the community needed to purchase land outside of the colony to support the members, as well as to buy supplies that could not be made by colony members.  (Amana is no longer owned by the colony).

An Amana home

All land was owned by the colony.  All jobs were assigned by the colony, and members ate communally in several communal kitchens.  Everybody who could work was given a job according to their abilities, but in general work was divided into traditional male and female roles, with men working in the factory and in the fields, and women working in the communal kitchens and gardens.

The Ackerman House – built 1856

I took the van tour of the Amana colonies.  It was fascinating; our tour guide was a former member of the colony so he had a lot of information on the inner workings of the colony and what it was like to grow up there.  He left the colony as a young adult, and later returned there to live, but he did not rejoin the religion.

Our guide outside the museum

On our tour, we went to several sites within the community.  We saw one of the general stores, a communal kitchen and a church.  At the church, a woman who was a member of the colony explained the way that they worship, with men and women separated during the service.  We also got to watch a video of the history of the community, with lots of historic photos of the community.  It was so interesting to see the cemetery too.  The premise is that all people are equal in the community, so the graves are simply laid in rows, with all the headstones the same, and simply arranged in the order in which people died.  It is certainly a departure from the concept of family plots.

 

 

The Amana colonies functioned well for over 80 years as an almost completely communal economy, importing almost nothing from outside of the colonies.  However, over time, weaknesses began to reveal themselves.  Colony members became unhappy that outsiders had technological advances, and began to make money on the side to support these purchases.  Other colony members then became jealous about what the Jones’ down the street had.  It is a familiar story whether or not you live in a community with a self-sufficient local economy, and sadly it eventually meant the end of the economic structure of the Amana colonies.  Members began to demand a vote of the society, to determine whether the group wanted to continue with their separate, communal society, or abandon it and join the capitalist economy of the people who lived outside.  I think you know how the vote went.

Today people continue to practice their form of worship, but the communal society they built here is gone.

My mom had recommended my visit there; I was interested but I doubt I would have sought it out had she not mentioned it.  It was really interesting though and I was glad I did.

One last note on Amana.  They have a couple of wineries!  I stopped by Ackerman Winery, a family owned winery that has been in operation since 1956, and did a tasting of their mostly fruit wines.  They are sweet, but I found a few that I enjoyed, and purchased the Rhubarb wine.  And I learned that I do not like dandelion wine – who knew?  Now I do.

Ackerman Winery

 

 

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