The Amana Colonies are a collection of seven villages in Eastern Iowa, founded by German settlers in 1855. The people in these villages actively maintain many of the cultural traditions of their ancestors. The Colonies are located just west of Iowa City along I-80. They are: Amana (also called Main Amana), East Amana, Homestead, Middle Amana, High Amana, West Amana, South Amana.
In 1855, a group of German settlers decided to buy some 30 square miles (70 km²) of land in eastern Iowa. These settlers, whose spirituality was marked by a strong belief in mysticism and communal life, sought to practice their religion in isolation. The Great Depression made it impossible for the villages to continue their isolation, and the Amana people voted to end their communal life, convert their shares in the common property into a formal business corporation, and build economic ties with the outside world. To this day, residents still maintain some of the traditional industries—woolen textiles, meats and cheeses, furniture—that their ancestors brought over from Germany. Some of the largest businesses and farms in the area either are or were previously owned and operated by the Amana Society, the for-profit corporation that was created when the businesses were separated from the church.
The entire set of colonies was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and there are hundreds of historic buildings still in use across the seven villages, mostly as homes for the approximately 1,200 permanent residents or as small businesses that cater to tourists.
Everyone speaks English. Compared to the rest of the region, a greater proportion of residents have learned some German in school. Some of the oldest residents also speak an older form of German, derived from West Central German, called Amana German or Kolonie-Deutsch.
The nearest airport with scheduled passenger service is the Eastern Iowa Airport, between Cedar Rapids and the Amana Colonies.
There is no public mass transit service, no bike rental, and no car rental service within the colonies. Transportation is by car, by joining a bus tour, by biking, or by walking.
Each of the small villages is a couple of miles away from the next, which means it is about an hour's walk from one to the next. However, few people routinely walk or bike between villages now, except to follow the bike trail between Middle Amana and Main Amana. Within each small village, however, walking from one shop to the next is often the best choice. The colonies were modeled after German farming villages, so they generally have a single main street with smaller residential streets branching off from the main street, and most shops are on the main street or very close to it.
- Amana Colonies Recreational Trail (Kolonieweg). Trail for bicycling and walking, mostly paved, with some gravel. Bike or walk 3.1 miles (5 km) between the old Amana Depot in Main Amana and the trail's official end in Middle Amana. Stop for a picnic at Lily Lake on your way. The flowers at the lake bloom in late July and early August.
- Various festivals. Seasonal festivals are held several times a year, including a Maifest in early May, an Oktoberfest in early October, and a Tannenbaum Forest from Thanksgiving through mid-December.
Main Amana, in particular, is home to many tourist-friendly shops selling art, antiques, clothing, and gifts.
- 1 Amana Woolen Mill, 800 48th Avenue (in Main Amana), toll-free: , ✉ email@example.com. M-Sa 9AM–5PM, Su 11AM–5PM. Founded in 1857, it is the only woolen mill still operating in Iowa. Free self-guided tours of the small mill allow you to see the looms in action.
- 2 Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse, 4513 F Street (North end of Main Amana), toll-free: . Ham, bacon, pork chops, other meats and cheeses. Good source of food for a picnic.
- 3 Broom and Basket Shop (Philip Dickel Basket Exhibit and Museum Gallery), 618 8th Avenue (in West Amana), ☏ . M–Sa 9AM–5PM. Handmade brooms and woven baskets. You might get to see a broom-making demonstration, and there is a frequently changing exhibition of baskets on display.
One of the main attractions of the Amana Colonies are its restaurants, which usually feature old German recipes and family-style service. Several of these well-known restaurants are housed in former communal dining houses from the earlier period. Many attract bus tours from considerable distances for a meal in the Amana Colonies.
- 1 Ox Yoke Inn, 4420 220th Trail, Amana, Iowa 52203 (in the middle of Main Amana), ☏ , toll-free: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Sundays, 9AM–7PM. Breakfast the rest of the week, 8AM–10:30AM. Lunch begins at 11AM; the evening closing time varies seasonally from 7PM to 9PM. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A large restaurant that serves mostly German-style food with old-fashioned decor. Don't forget to save room for a slice of pie. $20 per person for family-style meals and Sunday brunch.
- 2 Ronneburg Restaurant, 4408 220th Trail, Amana, Iowa 52203, ☏ , toll-free: , ✉ email@example.com. Breakfast starts at 8AM, every day. Closes early, at 7PM or 8PM depending on the day of the week. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Similar to the Ox Yoke Inn, which is next door. $12 per person for all-you-can-eat family-style breakfast. Lunch or dinner, $15 to $20.
Although many restaurants offer beer and wine, there are few bars, no clubs, and little nightlife. However, there are several wineries and craft breweries.
- 1 Millstream Brewing Company, 835 48th Avenue in Main Amana, ☏ . Hours vary each month. Iowa's oldest microbrewery. Kitchen open for lunch and supper daily. $12 for lunch, $5 for beer.
- 2 Heritage Wine, Cheese and Jelly Haus (Ackerman Winery), 4402 220th Trail, ☏ . 10AM–5PM or later, depending on season. Mostly known for their fruit wines. Compare their popular, sweet Crimson Cranberry to the others, or pick up some wine, cheese, and crackers to make a picnic.
- 3 Village Winery, 752 48th Avenue, toll-free: . Free thimble-sized samples of 15 different fruit or berry wines. Also a gift shop.
- 1 Zuber's Homestead Hotel (Iowa Prairie Hotel), 2206 44th Avenue, Homestead, IA 52236, ☏ , toll-free: . Check-in: 3PM–8PM, check-out: 11AM. A total of 15 rooms. Hot buffet breakfast. Not wheelchair accessible. $99–150 per night.
- 2 Amana Colonies RV Park and Event Center, 3890 C Street, Amana, IA 52203 (Half a mile northwest of main Amana. Take Highway 151 to C Street.), ☏ , toll-free: . Open mid-April through the end of October. Full-service RV park plus tent campgrounds with 450 sites and on-site event facilities that can accommodate up to 1,200 people. Amenities include coin-operated laundromat, free wi-fi internet access, liquid propane, wheelchair-accessible restrooms and showers. $20/night for tent sites, $36 for full-service RV sites.
- 3 Guest House Motel, 4712 220th Trail, Amana, IA 52203, ☏ , toll-free: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. The sandstone building was built in 1854 as a communal kitchen. It has been remodeled to create five guest rooms and two suites. Next door is a large modern motel building with 26 fairly boring rooms. A solid choice in an excellent location for people who don't plan to spend much time in the hotel. $71–95.
- 4 Die Heimat Country Inn, 4434 V Street, Homestead, IA 52236 (V Street is the main street in Homestead), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-out: 11AM. This was built in 1856 as a stagecoach stop and railroad inn. 16 rooms. Hot breakfast provided. Ground floor is wheelchair-accessible via the lift at the back door. The Die Heimat Event Center is next door in the historic former Homestead General Store building. $85–140.
The church that founded the Amana Colonies is still open; it is formally known as the Community of the True Inspiration. The church buildings look very much like regular buildings near the center of a village, although if you look closely, you may notice that the windows are somewhat larger. Services and Sunday School classes are held on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings in one of two locations, in either German or English. The services begin with quiet contemplation and a hymn. A portion of an inspired testimony by 18th- and 19-century prophets in the Inspirationalist church will be read, followed by prayers, Bible verses – with each lay elder reading a single verse of the passage in turn – a sermon, and a Psalm. The service ends with another hymn and a closing prayer. Men and women do not sit together during church services. Women wear plain black caps, shawls and aprons to embody equality and the belief that inward devotion is more important than outward adornment. Hymns and psalms are sung without accompaniment by piano, organ, or other musical instruments.