Dec 13th, 2011 | By | Category: Senior Travel

Seniors Visit the Historic Amana Colonies

My wife tells me that I have not written travel blogs for seniors on our home state of Iowa. That will be easy to do as Iowa abounds with many cities and sites that continually draw tourists from across the country.  One of the most famous is the Amana Colonies. I recall visiting during my youth and was always fascinated with the villages, the buildings, the various shops and most of all the restaurants. My wife and I have been back many times and it is always a special treat to take guests for the first time. Located just minutes from I-80, the seven villages of the Amana Colonies offer seniors the opportunity to step back from today’s busy pace, to relish in the comfort of locally crafted foods, furniture, art and more.

The Colonies were established shortly before the Civil War by a group of German-speaking European settlers who belonged to a religious group known as the Community of True Inspiration. A communal system of living sprang up in seven different villages, encompassing over 20,000 acres of land. The Amana Colonies were one of many utopian colonies established on American soil during the 18th and 19th centuries. Construction of the first village began in the summer of 1855 and the new settlement was named “Amana,” meaning “believe faithfully.”

Throngs of senior visitors now pass through Amana, the largest of the seven villages, and have visited the Amana Woolen Mill and Amana Furniture Shop,–two very important industries for the colonies.  After learning more about this settlement’s history and culture at the Museum of Amana History, seniors can enjoy a traditional German family-style meal at the Colony Inn Restaurant, The Ronnenburg or the Ox-Yoke Inn and each is known for serving every meal family style.

Touring the other villages by car, senior visitors will pass through historic farmland and observe the imprint the colonists made on their landscape at places such as the Mill Race, a canal dug to provide waterpower for the mills, the Lily Lake, and groves of trees called Schulwalds.  Barns and agricultural buildings were clustered together at the edge of each village.  Examples of this can be seen in West Amana, South Amana , and High Amana. Each village contained numerous dwellings, such as those in Homestead.

Seniors Discover Treasure on the Iowa Prairie

The Colonies have been a treasure on the Iowa prairie for over 150 years, offering a unique history and culture found nowhere else in the world. The Amana Colonies were registered as a National Historic Site in 1965. The  Colonies attract hundreds of thousands of senior visitors annually all of whom come to see and enjoy a place where the past is cherished and where hospitality is a way of life.  Over 450 communal-era buildings stand in the seven villages—vivid reminders of the past. Evocative of another age, the streets of the Amana Colonies with their historic brick, stone and clapboard homes, their flower and vegetable gardens, their lanterns and walkways recall Amana yesterday.

The Colonies are famous for their wide variety of fruit wines and others made from dandelions, Piestengel- Rhubarb, wild elderberry and other others varietals. The Amana golf course, where many tournaments are played, is rated the top course in Iowa. The Old Creamery Theatre Company, now celebrating its 40th year, is located in the Amanas and brings live, professional theatre to the people of Iowa and the Midwest.

The purpose of the Amana Society was to live peacefully, cooperatively, with humility and dignity, and with faith in God. There was no cooking in the homes; instead, people ate together in groups of thirty to sixty. There were many communal kitchens in each village and each kitchen had its own garden. Amana was known for its hospitality towards outsiders. Members would never turn away a person in need.

The Amana Colonies,  one of America’s longest-lived communal societies, began in 1714 in the villages of Germany and continued on the Iowa prairie. Members of the Society, who were all of German, Swiss and Alsatian ancestry, built their structures in Iowa in a style probably determined both by the architecture of their homeland and their religious belief in simplicity in material affairs.

The society membership has remained relatively constant, at about 1,750, for the past 130 years, and the members are a naturally conserving people, with strong ties to family and community. The farm buildings, the cemetery, the church and the communal kitchens originally dominated the village. Originally, all land and buildings were owned by the community. Families were assigned living quarters, and each person over school age worked at assigned tasks in the kitchens, fields, factories or shops. In 1932, the people voted to end the communal way of life.

The most widely known business that emerged from the Amana Society is Amana Refrigeration, Inc., which is now a subsidiary of Whirlpool Corporation.  Amana’s products are sold in more than one hundred countries worldwide. If you are old enough you may remember Arthur Godfrey.  He was continually promoting the Amana Colonies and the products produced in the Colonies on his shows.  He loved to visit the Colonies.

The Amana Colonies Visitors Center is located in the village of Amana, in a restored corn crib. I have viewed dozens and dozens of travel guides over the years and this one with 45 pages that you can flip through one by one is very nicely done for the Amana Colonies area. You will find several quaint B& Bs and full service hotels and condos available in the colonies.  This vibrant community, celebrating both its past and its future, is just waiting for you to experience.  Willkommen!  jeb

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