In 1855 they arrived in Iowa. After an inspired testimony commanded the people to call their village, “Bleibtreu” or “remain faithful,” the leaders chose the name Amana from the Song of Solomon 4:8. Amana means to remain true. Six villages were established, a mile or two apart, across a river valley tract of some 25,000 acres – Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana and Middle Amana. The village of Homestead was added in 1861, giving the Colonies access to the railroad. In 1864, the Ebenezer Society back in New York was finally liquidated and the last members from Ebenezer were able to make the removal to Iowa.
The Amana Colonies would become one of America’s longest-lived and largest religious communal societies. In the seven villages, residents received a home, medical care, meals, all household necessities and schooling for their children. Property and resources were shared. Men and women were assigned jobs by their village council of brethren. No one received a wage. No one needed one.
The production of wool and calico supported the community. Everything from clock making to brewing, were vital and well-crafted products became a hallmark of the Amanas. Craftsmen took special pride in their work as a testament of both their faith and their community spirit. The Amana villages became well known for their high quality goods.
The routine of the life in old Amana was paced very differently than today. Amana prayer meeting houses, located in the center of each village, built of brick or stone, have no stained glass windows, no steeple or spire, and reflect the ethos of simplicity and humility. Inspirationists attended worship services 11 times a week; their quiet worship punctuating the days.
Over 50 communal kitchens provided three meals daily to Colonists. These kitchens were operated by the women of the Colony and well supplied by the village smokehouse, bakery, ice house and dairy as well as huge gardens, orchards and vineyards maintained by the villagers.
Time for Change
In 1932, amidst America’s Great Depression, Amana set aside its communal way of life. A ruinous farm market and changes in the rural economy contributed, but what finally propelled the change was a strong desire on the part of residents to maintain their community. The communal way of life was seen as a barrier to achieving individual goals, so rather than leave or watch their children leave, they changed. They established the Amana Society, Inc., a profit-sharing corporation, to manage the farmland, the mills and the larger enterprises. Private enterprise was encouraged. The Amana Church was maintained.
Today the seven villages of the Amana Colonies represent an American dream come true; a thriving community founded by religious faith and community spirit. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, the Amana Colonies attract hundreds of thousands of 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.
Reminiscent of another age, the streets of the Amana Colonies with brick, stone and clapboard homes, flower and vegetable gardens, lanterns and walkways, recall Amana yesterday. Our community today is vibrant, celebrating both its past and its future, here today for you to experience.