UTOPIAN SOCIETIES (Vb) – UTOPIAS IN HOMERICA


(BEING CONTINUED FROM  19/10/12  AND  25/10/13)

ORIGINS OF THE COLONIES

[Historic Photo]
Ronneburg, a medieval castle in the Hesse province of Germany, which was occupied by Inspirationists in the 18th century
Photograph from “Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism” printed by the Amana Society in 1936

The Amana Colony in Iowa was established by German-speaking European settlers who belonged to a religious group known as the Community of True Inspiration, which traces its origins to Himbach, Germany in 1714. Community founders J.F. Rock (1678-1749) and E.L. Gruber (1665-1728) were among many Europeans seeking a more meaningful religious experience than they felt the established churches provided. Like many others, Rock and Gruber maintained that the Lutheran Church had become bogged-down in intellectual debate and formalized worship and thus neglected the spiritual needs of the congregation. An increasing desire to return to the basics of Christianity gained popularity in the doctrines articulated by this movement, known as Pietism. For Pietists, religion was a personal experience with an emphasis on sincere humility and earnest study of the Bible. The Community of True Inspiration was one of several groups which emerged from Pietism.

Rock, a saddlemaker, and Gruber, a former Lutheran minister, believed that God still spoke through prophets as described in the Old Testament. The Community of True Inspiration was founded on this belief. The new prophets were called Werkzeuge, or instruments. The divine pronouncements through the Werkzeuge were recorded by scribes and printed in collected volumes.

[Historic Photo]
Monastery Arnsburg, Germany, where the Inspirationsists started their first woolen mill in 1838
Photograph from “Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism,” printed by the Amana Society in 1936

The Inspirationist beliefs attracted many followers and congregations were established throughout Germany and surrounding regions. Because Inspirationists declined to perform military duty, take state-required oaths, or send their children to church-run schools, the congregations were often in conflict with church and governmental authorities. Many members of the Community of True Inspiration were punished with fines, imprisonment and public beatings. Nevertheless, the Inspirationist movement flourished through the mid-18th century. However, by 1750, there were no longer any Werkzeuge and both Rock and Gruber were dead. The movement declined and faded in the midst of European wars and economic depression.

War and famine, compounded by sweeping social and economic changes, devastated Germany in the early 1800s. Farmers and craftspeople in particular were affected by high rents, taxes and a new wave of industrialization. Many people, including a tailor named Michael Krausert, took comfort in religion. Krausert studied the words of J.F. Rock and received inspiration in 1817. This event revitalized the Inspirationist communities and attracted a new following. The WerkzeugKrausert was soon joined by two others, Barbara Heinemann and Christian Metz. Metz emerged as the guiding force of the community during its crucial years of growth and relocation to America.

During the 1820s and 1830s, Metz consolidated the community in the relatively liberal province of Hesse-Darmstadt in Germany. Congregations from Germany, Switzerland and Alsace moved to join the new communities in Hesse. The community leased large estates and castles within a few miles of each other. Both rich and poor lived together and shared in the social and economic life of the group. Although not communal, this arrangement helped to predispose the Inspirationists to the formal communal system which would be established in America and Amana.

[Historic Photo]
Christian Metz’s home in Ebenezer, New York
Photograph from “Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism,” printed by the Amana Society in 1936

THE MOVE TO AMERICA
By 1840 there were nearly 1000 members of the Community of True Inspiration, many living on the estates in Hesse. This growth took place in spite of persecution from German officials. The government, closely tied to the Lutheran church, viewed the Community’s theology as a political threat. Even in Hesse, Inspirationists were fined for their refusal to send children to state schools. Rising costs and rents and several years of drought aggravated the conditions on the estates. Metz and other leaders realized that they must seek a new home for the Community in America.

In September of 1842 a committee led by Christian Metz traveled to America in search of land on which to relocate the Community of True Inspiration. They purchased a 5,000-acre site in western New York, near Buffalo, and by the end of 1843 nearly 350 Inspirationists had immigrated to the new settlement, which they named “Ebenezer,” meaning “hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

[Historic Photo]
The woolen mil at Ebenezer, to which was brought some of the machinery from the mill at Arnsburg
Photograph from “Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism,” printed by the Amana Society in 1936

From the start, in order to facilitate all members of the community to come to America and live together, all property in Ebenezer was held in common. The initial plan was that after some time the land would be divided among the people according to their contribution of money and labor. However, leaders saw that the disparity in wealth, skills and age would make it difficult for all to purchase a portion of land–the community would fall apart as a result. Therefore in 1846 a constitution was adopted which established a permanent communal system. Any debate on this was resolved when Metz spoke a divine pronouncement endorsing the communal system.

Ebenezer flourished. By 1854 the population reached 1,200 people. Six villages were established, each with mills, shops, homes, communal kitchens, schools and churches. To accommodate this growth, additional land had been purchased, but more was needed. However, the booming growth of nearby Buffalo put land prices at a premium. Furthermore, the community leaders perceived a threat from the economic development around them. It was felt that capitalist and worldly influences were bringing about a growing interest in materialism and threatened the spiritual focus of the Inspirationist community. The leadership decided it was time to move the community again–this time to the unsettled west.

COMMUNAL AMANA

After investigating sites in Kansas and Iowa, the True Inspirationists selected a location along the Iowa River valley about 20 miles west of Iowa City, Iowa for the relocation of their community. This site offered extensive timberland, quarries for limestone and sandstone and long stretches of prairie filled with rich, black soil. Construction of the first village began in the summer of 1855 and the new settlement was named “Amana,” meaning “believe faithfully.” Community members moved to Amana over the next ten years as they gradually sold parcels of the Ebenezer property. A new constitution was adopted as the Community of True Inspiration took on the legal identity of the Amana Society. This new constitution essentially retained the communal system which had been developed in Ebenezer.

[Historic photo]
Historic image of Amana women preparing vegetables at the Ruedy Küche, 1926, now the  Communal Kitchen Museum
Photograph courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society

All members of the community shared in its economic success. The community provided each family with a home and all necessities of life. No one received a cash income. Rather, everyone was given an annual purchase allowance at the general store where goods were priced at cost. Medical care was provided free by the community. In return, each person was expected to work and was assigned a job by the community Elders based on the needs of the community as well as the talents of the individual. Nearly all women, starting at about age 14, worked in the communal kitchens and gardens. Women also tended to laundry, sewing and knitting and a few worked at the woolen mills. Men’s jobs were far more varied. Young men might learn to work in one of the many craft shops, in the mills, or on the farms. Some men were sent outside the community to be educated as doctors or pharmacists.

[Photo]
An example of agricultural buildings and barns clustered together at the edge of a village
Photograph from “The Amana Colonies,” printed by the Amana Society in 1974

By the 1860s the Amana Colony, as it came to be known, consisted of over 20,000 acres of land on which seven villages had been established. The villages were spaced just a few miles apart, roughly in the shape of a rectangle, and were named according to their location: West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, East Amana and Middle Amana, in addition to the original village of Amana. The town of Homestead, little more than a few buildings, was purchased by the Inspirationists so that they could have a depot on the new railroad line.

Amana villages each consisted of 40 to 100 buildings. The barns and agricultural buildings were always clustered at the village edge. Orchards, vineyards and gardens encircled the villages. Typical houses were rectangular two-story buildings of wood post-and-beam construction, brick, or sandstone. Each village had its own church, school, bakery, dairy, wine cellar, craft shops and general store. There were also a number of communal kitchens in each village where groups of about 30-40 people ate their meals.

[Photo]
West Amana’s first church, built in 1862, is an example of that villages prevalent sandstone buildings
Photograph by Shannon Bell

Although all Amana villages are similar, each has its distinctive aspects. The original village of Amana, for example, is reminiscent of a German town with its meandering main street and side streets. On the other hand, the last village built–Middle Amana–displays a very American square block layout. South Amana is known for its predominance of brick construction–boasting even a brick granary and chicken house; in West Amana and High Amana sandstone buildingsprevail. Tiny East Amana was not much more than an agricultural outpost, while Amana hummed with industry. The railroads’ influence on the villages is evident in Homestead’s single street and the bipartite nature of (upper and lower) South Amana.

The Amana settlement pattern of seven villages allowed the Inspirationists to easily access all their farm land (albeit at the cost of inefficiencies due to the need for a multiplicity of machinery and craft shops). Just as importantly it avoided a large urban setting which they felt encouraged immorality. Still, the network of small villages maintained an overall unity and kept everyone close to the spiritual leadership.

[Historic photo]
Amana Calico Mill in the 1890s
Photograph courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society

The Inspirationists established mills and shops according to their old-world skills. Amana’s woolen  and calico factories were among the first in Iowa and quickly gained a national reputation for superior quality goods. The Inspirationists did not avoid the use of new technologies and in fact are known to have contributed innovations of their own to the textile industry. By 1908, the two woolen mills (in Amana and Middle Amana) were producing about a half-million yards of fabric a year and the calico factory printed 4,500 yards of its famous cloth each day. Two flour mills (in West Amana and Amana) processed the community’s own small grains as well as those of neighboring farmers. Crops of potatoes and onions were shipped to Midwest markets. Profits from the mills and farms was used to purchase goods from outside the community.

[Historic photo]
Homestead Community Church, c. 1900, the center of village life
Photograph courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society

Of course, for the Inspirationists all this economic activity was subordinate to their religious purpose, to live a godly and pious life. To assist them in this, church services were held 11 times a week: every evening, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, and Sunday afternoon. The Community also observed Easter, Christmas and other Christian holidays. In addition, the Inspirationists in Amana held several special services during the year. Of these, the annual renewal of the covenant between each member and the community, and Liebesmahl (Holy Communion) were the most important. Liebesmahl was actually held at times determined through inspiration until the death of Metz in 1867 and thereafter usually every other year. An Unterredung or yearly spiritual examination was held over several months with the Elders visiting each village in turn. Each member of the community came before the Elders and was questioned regarding his/her spiritual condition and admonished to lead a more pious life.

The church Elders, always men, comprised the leadership in the community. During the time of theWerkzeuge, Elders were chosen through inspiration. The Elders conducted the church services in each village. Some Elders were chosen as Trustees who managed the economic aspects and daily life of the villages. Up to this level each village functioned independently. Collectively, the villages were governed by a Board of Trustees, 13 Elders elected by the adult members of the community. This board directed the overall affairs of the community. Following the death of Barbara Heinemann Landmann, the last Werkzeug, in 1883, the elders and Trustees functioned for nearly 50 years without the support of divine authority. They showed a remarkable degree of flexibility to allow communal Amana to become one of America’s longest-lived communal societies.

AMANA COLONIES TODAY

[Photo]
The Amana Colonies today – pictured here are original farm implements and one of the many of the traditional Amana buildings that have been preserved
Photograph courtesy of the Amana Colonies Convention and Visitors Bureau

At the turn of the 21st century, the Community of True Inspiration is approaching its 300th year of existence although the Amana of today differs from that of a century before. By the 1930s, the communal system in Amana had generated stresses which it could not resolve. Many community members found the rules associated with communal living to be petty and overly restrictive. Regulations governed most aspects of daily life including dining, dress and leisure activities. Many young people wanted to be free to play baseball, to own musical instruments or to bob their hair in the new style. Families wanted to eat together at home rather than in the communal kitchen dining rooms. Although members received an annual spending allowance, many people felt theirs was inadequate and were frustrated by their inability to enjoy more material goods. Increasingly the elders were unable to enforce the rules.

[Photo]
The Amana Woolen Mill, c.1920, before it was damaged by fire three years later
Photograph courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society

In 1931, the community found itself in a crisis. In addition to the social strains of communal living, the community had suffered several economic setbacks in the previous decade. The Amana Society had lost an important source of revenue when its calico print works closed after World War I. A fire in 1923 extensively damaged the woolen mill and completely destroyed the Amana flour mill. And the national economic depression had shrunk the market for the Society’s agricultural products.

The Elders presented the membership of the community with a choice: either they could return to a more austere and disciplined life or they could abandon the communal system. Significantly, dissolution of the church was not considered as an alternative. But most members also recognized that their community had changed and that they were probably incapable of returning to the strict life of early communalism. Many people no longer equated their faith with the social mores dictated by the Community. Furthermore, many members felt that communalism itself was no longer a

[Photo]
Headquarters of the newly established Amana Society, Inc., c.1936
Photograph from “Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism,” printed by the Amana Society in 1936

necessary tenet of faith of the church. On June 1st, 1932, the members elected to retain the traditional church as it was, and to create a joint-stock company (Amana Society, Inc.) for the business enterprises to be operated for profit by a Board of Directors. This separation of the church from the economic functions of the community–the abandonment of communalism–is referred to by Amana residents still today as “the Great Change.”

Today, the Amana Society, Inc., corporate heir to the land and economic assets of communal Amana, continues to own and manage some 26,000 acres of farm, pasture and forest land. Agriculture remains an important economic base today just as it was in communal times. Because the land was not divided up with the end of communalism the landscape of Amana still reflects its communal heritage. In addition, over 450 communal-era buildings stand in the seven villages–vivid reminders of the past.

[Photo]

Aerial view of the Amana Refrigeration plant in the 1970s, note the narrow brick smoke stack rising above the plant buildings
Photograph from “The Amana Colonies,” printed by the Amana Society in 1974

The most widely known business that emerged from the Amana Society is Amana Refrigeration, Inc. This national leader in the production of refrigerators was founded by an Amana native, George C. Foerstner at the time of the Great Change. The first beverage cooler, designed for a businessman in nearby Iowa City in 1934, was built by skilled craftsmen at the Middle Amana woolen mill. In the decades that followed, the mill became the site of this large, now private, plant producing refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and in 1967 introduced a new product–the Amana Radarange Microwave Oven. Today, the 19th-century woolen mill smoke stack still rises over the modern plant.

The Amana Church continues to be a vital part of the Amana community. A visitor to Amana today would do well to visit an Inspirationist cemetery. Surrounded by pine trees to symbolize eternal life, the cemeteries continue to express the Inspirationist ethos of equality, humility and simplicity. As they have been for over 140 years, members are buried in order of death with plain, uniform headstones. Like the cemeteries, the Amana churches are much as they were when built 125 years ago. The building exteriors are unpretentious; no steeple or

[Photo]
Interior of the Community Church Museum, which still retains its unfinished wood floors, plain pine benches and unadorned walls
Photograph by Shannon Bell

colored-glass windows declare that the edifice is a house of God. Inside, the unfinished wood floors, plain pine benches and unadorned walls echo the tradition of humility and piety. Men still enter and sit on one side of a central aisle; women on the other. Worshippers come early for quiet contemplation. English language services were introduced in 1960, but in both German and English services the order of worship has changed little over the years: a reading from Scripture; a reading from a testimony from Rock, Metz or Landmann; hymns that would be recognized by a congregation of a century earlier.

Today, heritage tourism has become important to the economy of the Amana area. Historic preservation efforts by several local nonprofit organizations, as well as the Amana Society, Inc. in conjunction with land-use and historic preservation ordinances attempt to preserve the natural and built environment of Amana.

SOURCE  http://www.nps.gov

(TO BE CONTINUED)

About sooteris kyritsis

Job title: (f)PHELLOW OF SOPHIA Profession: RESEARCHER Company: ANTHROOPISMOS Favorite quote: "ITS TIME FOR KOSMOPOLITANS(=HELLINES) TO FLY IN SPACE." Interested in: Activity Partners, Friends Fashion: Classic Humor: Friendly Places lived: EN THE HIGHLANDS OF KOSMOS THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF AMENTHE
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