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[graphic header] The Amana Colonies: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary of a unique historic communal society in eastern Iowa

[graphic] Amana Woolen Mill
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[photo]
Streetscape of Amana Woolen Mill
Photograph by Shannon Bell

Construction of the Woolen Mill in Amana began in 1859, and the mill complex was continually added to until 1943. A salesroom was later added in the 1960s. The production and sale of wool items has a long history in the Amana Colonies, and Amana's first settlers brought their looms in crates from Germany. The practice of selling woolen blankets, suiting and fabric began in 1838, when the Inspirationists lived at the Arnsburg Estate in Germany. Producing the wool for the Amana Colonies required more than just the looms and dyeing vats. The millwrights and metalworkers played an integral role in woolen production, repairing and servicing the machinery and mills. The wool itself, when possible, came from sheep raised near East Amana. The Amana Woolen Mill was originally water-powered generated from the seven-mile millrace, but this source was replaced by steam and finally electricity, including water powered generators. The impact of the sprawling complex of buildings that makes up the Woolen Mill reached far beyond its walls. The sound of the machines could be heard throughout the village of Amana and is remembered fondly by the local residents. Profits from the mill have supported the community throughout its history.

By 1890 the woolen mills produced 3,000 yards of woolen goods daily, which required over a half million pounds of wool annually. Although the Amana Society had over 3,000 sheep, wool still had to be imported from Texas, Colorado, and sometimes Australia. Members of the Amana Society acted as agents for the mills and traveled selling their goods, which were in demand from Maine to the Pacific. The second woolen mill was in Middle Amana. Perkins and Wick wrote about the mills, in their book History of the Amana Society or Community of True Inspiration, "There is no 'piece work' method here, for everything is done well, without the rush and hurry which we see in other factories. Their goods are the best in the market, and the following expression is often heard; 'Colony goods, full width, a yard wide'."

[historic photo]
The Amana Woolen Mill, c.1920
Photograph courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society

The wool moved through the carding, dyeing, weaving, and finishing departments and then into the storage building. Disaster struck the carding house in 1923, when a fire which began at a flour mill spread to the Woolen Mill complex. The carding house was repaired, but the third floor was not replaced. In 1943 a third floor was added to the weaving house, but this was later blown off during a severe windstorm in June 1998. Like the carding house in 1923, the Amana Society did not replace it, but rebuilt the second floor. Nationally, the woolen industry has borrowed much from the Amana Colonies, as the weavers have perfected many improvements in designs for machinery, later sharing them with other American mills with no patent or royalty asked.

The Amana Woolen Mill is located at 800 48th Ave., in Amana. Visitors can still watch the looms in action Monday-Friday, 8:30am to 4:00pm. Self-guided tours of the mill area are offered daily year round. Woolen products from the mill are sold in the Woolen Mill salesroom Monday-Saturday, 8:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday, 11:00am to 5:00pm with longer hours in the summer. Call 1-800-222-6430 or visit their website for further information.

 

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