Amana Colonies
Most Frequently Asked Questions

GENERAL INFORMATION

What are the origins of the Amana Colonies?
In 1714, a religious group known as the Community of True Inspiration was founded in southwestern Germany by Eberhard Ludwig Gruber and Johann Friedrich Rock.

When did they first come to America?
Christian Metz and a few close companions landed in New York on October 26, 1842. They were scouting for a location in which they could build a communal community for their 800 members. Their initial community was called Ebenezer, located near Buffalo, New York.

When were the Amana Colonies settled?
The entire community (1,200 total) began moving from New York to the new state of Iowa in 1855. Over a period of ten years, they built the new Amana Colonies and sold the New York property, moving to Iowa in groups.

Where does the name Amana come from?
The name "Amana" comes from the Bible, the Song of Solomon 4:8. It means "remain true" or "believe faithfully".

How many people live in the Amana Colonies?
Approximately 1,700 people live in the seven villages today.

Are all the people from around here from Germany?
Actually very few people are from Germany. However, a majority of the residents' ancestors came from the German provinces -- especially from the Frankfurt area -- as well as France and Switzerland.

Can anyone live here?
Yes. Many people presently live in the Amana Colonies that are not descendants of the original German settlers.

Why are there seven villages?
The villages of Amana, West Amana, and South Amana were the first towns to be set up. They were located on the outside perimeter of the land owned by the community. After that, villages were spaced apart so that all of the land could be easily farmed.

How is an Amana village laid out?
Like 19th-century German villages, the Amana village had one main street which was used primarily for shops. Farm buildings were located at the edges of the villages. The large residences housed several families in apartments. Grape trellises were often placed on the sides of houses to supply fruit and shade the building.

What does it mean to be a National Historic Landmark?
The Amana Colonies were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965 by the United States Department of the Interior. This designation means that the Colonies possess particular significance in the history of the United States. There are over 475 historic buildings and sites throughout the Amana Colonies.

Are the Amana people Amish?
No. The Amana Colonies community has its origins in Germany around 1700. The Amish people can trace their roots to the 16th century. There is absolutely no connection. It's confusing because the names sound so much alike, and both groups are German and religious.

COMMUNAL AMANA

What does communalism mean?
Communalism is a social arrangement for people living together in which all property (land, buildings, furniture, livestock, tools, etc. -- except for some personal property like clothing -- is held in common. This is a small-scale form of communism practiced by other utopian groups and on a much large scale in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Cuba, and China. All land is owned by the government of Israel.

When and why was the communal system established?
The Amana Colonies community was above all a religious community. Communalism was seen as a means for the community to realize its religious ideals and goals. Although there was much cooperation and sharing in Germany, the communal system was not formally adopted until the people settled in New York in the 1840s and continued in the Iowa Amana Colonies.

Did anyone receive wages in the communal days?
An adult member would be given a certain amount of credit annually in the general stores, pharmacy, and craft shops to purchase items which were not supplied by the community.

What did the community supply?
The community supplied housing, food, education, a job, and medical care to each of its members.

Did the communal Amana have its own schools?
Each village had its own "Kinderschule" or daycare and a grade school for both boys and girls through the eigth grade. If the community needed a doctor, pharmacist, dentist, or teacher, the elders of the church would pay the expenses for a student to study outside of the community.

Were the schools part of the public school system?
Yes, Amana Colonies schools were always a part of the Iowa public school system. Religious topics were taught in an extra school day on Saturdays.

What was the communal kitchen?
Communal kitchens provided meals for all the members of the community. Each village had several large communal kitchens. Everyone was assigned a Kitchen in which to eat. Approximately 30-40 people ate in each kitchen. Men would eat at one table and the women and young children would eat at another table. Grace was said before and after each meal.

Who worked in the communal kitchen?
Girls, after having completed the eighth grade, would begin work in the communal kitchens. A kitchen boss -- always a woman -- would be their supervisor. Women would be assigned individual tasks of working in the gardens or preparing food.

What if someone didn't like communal life?
They were free to leave the community, and many did.

When did the Amana Colonies abandon communalism?
People had been planning for a reorganization for some time but the final change came June 1, 1932. The reorganization is often referred to by Amana people as "The Great Change".

Why was there a reorganization?
There were numerous reasons to change the structure of the business and social system. There had been a disastrous fire in 1923 which destroyed the flour and woolen mills in Amana, causing substantial loss of capital. Young people were leaving the community in order to find better jobs and get a higher education. 1932 marked the third year of the Great Depression -- orders for woolen goods and farm items were being canceled.

What did the reorganization mean for people's lives?
Most importantly, the religious and economic life of the community was separated. The Amana Church continued to be the religious focus of the community; and, the Amana Society Corporation guided the business activities. People were given shares of stock in the corporation which they could sell if they wished. Some purchased cars and homes and other necessities of a non-communal lifestyle. A high-school was built so that children could continue their education. People began to work for wages, cook their own meals, and individualize their homes.

THE AMANA CHURCH

What is the Amana Church?
The Amana Church, or as it is more formally known, "The Community of True Inspiration," was begun in 1714 primarily by two men, Johann Friedrich Rock and Eberhard Ludwig Gruber. These men believed that the only way one could find true salvation was by studying the scriptures. These men and their followers believed that people could be inspired by God to give testimony to His word.

What does the church believe?
The Community of True Inspiration is a Christian Church and believes in the Scriptural teachings of Jesus Christ. It believes in a simple, pietist faith and inward devotion. What sets it apart from other churches is its adherence to the doctrine of Inspirationism.

What is meant by inspirationism?
Inspirationism is the belief that God still speaks to his people through "Werkzeuge" (instruments) just as He did through the prophets of the Old Testament. Although the last Werkzeuge (Barbara Heinemann) died in 1883, the inspired testimonies were recorded and remain an important part of the faith.

Has the church changed at all?
In the 1930's a Sunday School program was started. In the 1950s English services started to be held in addition to the German. Some old practices such as foot washing and 11 services a week are no longer followed.

I don't see the churches, where are they?
Each village has a church building which is located in the center of town. There are no stained glass windows, steeples, or anything that would distinguish it as a church.

What does the inside of the church look like?
The walls are painted a light blue. There are plain pine benches upon which the congregation is seated. The windows are a little larger than normal size. Men still sit on one side of the church while women sit on the other side. Women usually wear black shawls and aprons as signs of humility and equality.

Are there ministers in the church?
No, there are lay elders. An elder is a man or woman who has either been asked or chosen to lead the spiritual community. The elders take turns presiding at the Church service.

How is a church service conducted?
There are German and English Services given each week. Singing is done without instrumental accompaniment. There are readings from the Bible and the inspired testimonies, and the presiding elder comments on the readings.

Where are the cemeteries?
Outside of each village; a grove of pine trees surrounds each cemetary. Everyone is buried in order of death with a plain stone marker, symbolizing the equality of all people in the eyes of God.

May I attend services?
Yes, the church does request that you respect the customs and forms of worship.

THE AMANA SOCIETY

What is the Amana Society?
The Amana Society is a business corporation made up of stockholders. This corporation owns the agricultural land in the Amana Colonies and operates some of the businesses.

How large an area does the Amana Society cover?
The Amana Society manages over 26,000 acres of land. Farming is an important aspect of the Amana Society.

Does the Amana Society own the Amana Refrigeration Plant?
Amana Refrigeration, Inc. was once a part of the Amana Society, but it was sold to private investors. It became a subsidiary of Raytheon Corporation in 1965.