Sunday, June 29, 2014


There were many mills in Amana but the saw mill helped to make a more successful community in the Iowa River Valley. It was one of the first mills and factories set up in Iowa.  The original colonists put together their strong will and character to continue on from Ebenezer, New York to build houses,  shops, mills, factories, churches, and schoolhouses. The houses were all very well built and had a simple style architecture. It was the purpose of the Inspirationists to build houses as nearly alike as possible. 40-100 hardwood, frame houses were arranged in the manner of a German village -one long street with several offshoots with barns and sheds at one end, factories and workshops on the other. The sawmill in each village took care of some 10,000 acres total of hardwood to make these buildings. The one in Amana was located south of the Woolen Mill near the Millrace stream. All the wood forfurniture in the houses was also cut at the sawmill and made by local carpenters, pre-1932. The remains of the Amana mill are still there.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Carl Oehl

Amana Meat Shop "greeter" and "sampler", Carl Oehl, is sitting on his stool asking you to try smoked pork with horseradish sauce. He is a good friend, fine ambassador for the Amana Colonies, was Oktoberfest's Burgemeister tapping the first beer, and sharing his unending Gemutlichkeit with everyone he meets. He enjoys telling the Amana story, one which has long been an important part of his life. He and his late wife, Fern, had a restaurant in South Amana for many years so he is a natural at making new friends and always entertaining the old ones. You will always find him with a smile, a handshake, or a handbump. Upon the close of your visit, and a great one it will be, you will hear him say, "KEEP SMILING".
AMS photos

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


DER STRUWWELPETER (Wild hair head Peter,1845), is a German children's book that my German parents and I grew up with. By Heinrich Hoffman [1809-1894], it is made up of 10 illustrated and rhymed stories mostly about children written in reaction to lack of "good" children's books written in a very exaggerated,  extreme way in extreme times. The stories are clever and grim but meant to teach children a clear lesson on moral character. Originally written for 3-6 year olds, some kids are scared, some fascinated by them but the humor is sick by today's standards. The drawings are charming and rustic and translated into several languages. Many  music, film, and stage adaptations of these stories have appeared over the years to present times. One of the stories is about what happens to naughty Conrad who sucks his thumb when his mom is not looking? Long Legged Scissor Man leaps out and cuts his thumbs off with a huge pair of scissors, of course. And...what about Augustus who wouldn't' t eat his soup? He starved to death, naturally!..according to these stories of long ago. Oh, what consequences.... No sugar coating here!  

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Ronneburg Castle

The Ronneburg Castle, a landmark often referred to in Amana history, is a beautiful piece of 13th century,  Medieval architecture that sits on a steep basalt cone. It is also a municipality in the district of Main-Kinzig, in Hessen, Germany and bordered on the north by the city of Búdingen. The castle is in the center of the  design of the town's coat of arms, sitting on its high hills known as "Ronneburg Hill Country". The castle's early names were Raneburg, Roneburg, which means fallen tree which might refer to its many attached palisades. The castle was first mentioned in a document in 1258, some think 1231. It changed hands many times in its early years, belonging to the bishops of Mainz, the count of Búdingen and the knights of Rockenburg, and finally after much feuding and sacks, it fell into the hands of the  counts of Ysenburg-Búdingen, who still own it. A fire destroyed the castle in 1621, and Croatian troops plundered it in 1634. In the early 18th century it was home to many Protestant exiles (Amana Pietists Rock and Gruber) following the Thirty Years War. Here the Amana people found refuge among other estates. A storm damaged the castle in the mid 19th century so many inhabitants left, the last in 1886. In 1905, it was named a protected historical monument, action was taken to maintain it, and now is a popular place to visit which I did in 2011 with a group of Amana residents. In 2004 it was once again sold to a nephew of the family princess, named Joachim Benedikt von Herman. The Ronneburg has a steep, narrow lane (Amanastrasse) leading up to its two gates, two courtyards,mighty wall,ruins of royal stables on which a restaurant is now built, a fortress, a well house with a 317 foot deep well, main living quarters and apartments for the royal of the past, 145 stairwell that leads to the castle tower, below is a museum that features an apothecary, a kitchen and bakery and tools. On my visit I was surprised to see several peacocks in their splendor swirling around the courtyard. This whole castle was truely a scene from long time passed,in this case, like a page from Germany's and Amana's history book.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


The art of weaving fabric was an important part of the culture of the Inspirationists that came to Amana from Ebenezer (1844) and before that, Germany (1714).  The Amana Woolen Mill was one of the first and largest in Iowa,(1857). Their early weaving equipment was shipped to Ebenerzer , New York (1844) when they immigrated, then brought to Amana.(1855). The mills there and in Amana and Middle, employed many and was impressive in the business world. Some of the machinery was from Germany and devices invented by the workers went worldwide but they never patented them. Wool was purchased from other states, the best grades only such as those from Australia, Texas, and Colorado. Amana Society raised 3,000 sheep at this time too. The mill used one half million pounds of wool annually, washed, dyed, and dried in kilns. Orders for the USA government for army blankets kept communal era workers very busy. Canal water ran East to power the turbines that ran the mill looms and other machinery in the mill. Today it still powers some electricity. Lost entirely to fire in August 11, 1923, the Amana mill had much saved by lots of local help and eventually merged with the Middle mill. In 1998 it had its roof torn off by straight line winds, but recovered to become a successful business. I remember hearing the noon whistle from the watchtower, also the late night clicking of the cast iron looms, shuttles and harnesses quieted today by computerized systems and Swiss looms.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

World Famous

AMANA REFRIGERATION, INC. now Whirlpool, formerly Maytag is a world famous maker of refrigerators and other appliances for the home and industry. It was originally called Amana Equipment Company in 1932 when it was started in High by High Amana resident George Foerstner. It was bought by Amana Society in 1936 and moved to Middle Amana. In 1943 it recovered from a fire, by 1944 was still successful and in 1950 became Amana Refrigeration, Inc.under new owner Howard Hall with Mr. Foerstner General manager. In 1965 The Amana Refrigeration Co. Merged with Raytheon Corporation and Mr. Foerstner named president. Upright, frost free refrigerators and the microwave oven known as the Radarrange since 1967 were all made at the Middle plant. Air conditioners were made at a second plant in Fayetville, TN. At one time the Middle plant employed some 2500 workers from 100 area towns. The site was once a woolen mill as well. The original tower still stands.  I once gave college summer tours, office work, and made Radarrange doors there for college tuition, as several of my friends did. What a learning experience that was.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Imagine a pre-1932 setting with only kerosene lamps, wooden flatware, ironstone dishes, and spoons in a glass spoonholder. There were no napkins at the table and only a pot of coffee served on the table, water at a counter. Benches provide seating at tables where men and women are separated. The lights are low and the folks are hungry at this traditional communal meal setting. The tables are filled with wholesome foods, the menu practically the same day to day except when varied fruits and vegetables are in season. Food is well cooked by the kitchen boss and her helpers with no modifications. They are taught discipline, structure, mentoring and teamwork. There are three meals a day with a light snack at mid morning and afternoon. Wine and cider are also added at certain times. A best typical meal may be roasted pork loin, dried cooked peas, sweet sauer red cabbage salad, pickled cucumber wedges, bread and butter, soon became with raspberry sauce, all locally grown and made from the 100 acres of garden space each village was alloted. What a great time and meal it would have been!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Amana Farms

The Inspirationists that came from Germany were mainly a group of farmers and artisans. As today in Amana, farming was a prime interest and source of income with its most modern and scientific technologies and methods to save labor, time, and money.  25,000 acres of prime farmland support the operations around the seven villages with rich bottomless and fertile uplands. Large herds of cattle, sheep, dairy cows, and hogs were once raised, as well as corn and grain. Horses were ridden to round up large herds and help fill the hay barns.. 2,000 head of cattle used to be sorted all day at 10 cents an hour! 15-18 ox teams were used for heavy hauling done. There was a plentiful water supply with the Iowa River nearby to help water animals and crops. Potatoes were raised in the fields by the farm department. Onions were raised for a Chicago market. Soybeans, corn, wheat, barley, and clover, broomcorn, willow were grown as well. 9,000 acres of woodlands supported the furniture making and lumber needs. 7,000 acres were cultivated while some acres were rented out for seed corn. Cropland , pasture, and timberland all very important.
Goats and long horn steer have also been seen feeding on Amana grains and grasses. I still see horses and cowboys herding and driving cattle, while 4-wheelers check  the calves. Quite an operation long ago and today!