This past weekend I took a 4 hour road trip to Iowa and traveled back in time 150 years. Coming from the congested Chicagoland area, I always look forward to the more low-key lifestyle that most of Iowa provides. My mom is originally from Iowa so I am no stranger to I-80 and the endless corn fields. Sometimes we would drive to Iowa for a weekend away but this weekend we actually had plans to join in the rivalry of the Amana Colonies Oktoberfest.
Amana Colonies are located about 5 miles north of I-80 and a little less then 20 miles west of Iowa City. The Amana Colonies were created in 1855 and were a final destination for German immigrants escaping persecution and looking to form their own settlement. These immigrants worked together in a communal way of life and began running farms, meat shops, wineries, woolen mills, and furniture stores. Although many people believe Amana Colonies is Amish, it is not. The immigrants came from a religious group called True Inspirationists that originated in southwestern Germany. Finally after so many years, in 1932, the residents of Amana decided to stop living communally and begin owning their own houses and businesses. Although there have been many changes in Amana over the years, visitors can still see original buildings and understand how life used to be 100 years ago.
The Seven Villages that make up the Amana Colonies include Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, and Homestead. As a little celebrity side note, Ashton Kutcher grew up in Homestead and went to Clear Creek Amana High School. Amana does have modern homes and conveniences so don't worry about imagining Ashton living a "simple" German immigrant life. I do have to say though that the Midwest can produce some beautiful people. Amana is the largest village and the main setting for the Oktoberfest. Amana Colonies have other festivals throughout the year that include "Maifest" in the spring and "A Prelude to Christmas" in the winter.
The Oktoberfest parade started at 10am on Saturday and we had absolutely beautiful weather. There were many locals but I'd say just as many, if not more, tourists. Below are a few shots I got of the parade.
After the parade the crowds dispersed into the restaurants and shops. We made our way over to the Millstream Brewing Company to watch the high school jazz band play. At one time Amana had three breweries however the Millstream has made a name for itself with its award-winning craft beers and delicious sodas. Since it was about 11am when we sat down to listen to the band, we opted for a root beer and creme soda instead of their beer. In the Oktoberfest schedule, I had noticed that the Amana Furniture Store had two public tours scheduled for Saturday but we had to call and make a reservation for the tour. I called and was able to secure spots on their 1pm tour. After the band finished playing, we made our way over to the Woolen Mill and enjoyed a short group tour that explained how garments were made over the years. The Amana Woolen Mill is the only operating woolen mill in Iowa. When the Inspirationists came to Iowa, they installed their German equipment and created a woolen mill first in Amana and then in Middle Amana. By 1908, the mills were producing 20,000 blankets a year which were being sold around the nation. The Amana Woolen Mill was destroyed in a fire in 1923 but was rebuilt while the woolen mill in Middle Amana closed in 1937. Today, the Amana Woolen Mill is still operating and producing beautiful blankets and scarves.
From the Woolen Mill, we made our way over to the Amana Furniture Store. It appeared that our tour was a special tour because of the Oktoberfest and is not a regularly scheduled tour. I went to the Furniture Store's website and I could not find tour information. If you ever are able to do a tour of the Furniture Store, I would highly recommend it. We learned a lot about how Amana furniture is made and how the store can do all kinds of custom work for its customers. Our tour guide talked about the different woods that are used and the high skill levels of their woodworkers. One unique offering of the Amana Furniture Store is that they are able to replicate any of their furniture pieces that have been created in the last 30 or so years. If a customer bought chairs for a table 25 years ago and he wants more chairs made, the Furniture Store has no problem building exact replicas of the chairs.
After the Furniture Store, we wandered into the Village Winery and sampled some of their fruit wines. Dandelion wine is a unique Amana wine that many tourists love to buy, although a winery employee told me that their cranberry wine was the most popular. We purchased a bottle of cranberry wine and a bottle of raspberry wine for ourselves and a bottle of elderberry wine for a friend.
Next we headed over to the area where the games and contests were being held. There was the "keg throw", the "saw the log", and then a "hammer the nail" contest. I was tempted to try the "saw the log" contest but in the end just opted to watch.
We ended up wandering more, just taking in the different Oktoberfest activities. There was live music and a village carriage ride along with fun food vendors. We also bought a huge bag of kettle corn that I am still working on finishing.
We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to enjoy an Oktoberfest, especially in the Amana Colonies. I would highly recommend spending a day at the Amana Colonies, whether it's for a fest or just a simple get away.