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 Iowa History

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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp






One of the largest, and perhaps the most interesting, of Iowa's colonies is that of Amana.  The people of this colony came from Germany and had been driven from their home country because of their religious belief.  They first settled on land which they bought from the Indians near Buffalo, New York.  When more settlers came from Germany and more land was needed, the leaders of the colony decided that they must move westward  because land in New York was too expensive.  A committee of men from the colony came to Iowa in 1854 and bought about 3,300 acres.  The next year some of the colonists moved to Iowa and built the first village, which they called Amana.  It was ten years before all of the colonists had left New York.

The Amana colony grew until there are now seven villages.  Each has its own church and elementary school.  There is one high school for the entire colony.  At present the colony owns about twenty-six thousand acres of land and consists of about eighteen hundred members.

Until June 1932 no one in the Amana Colony owned anything for himself.  The colony as a group owned everything.  Everyone in the colony worked for the group.  In 1832, however, three-fourths of the members voted to reorganize the colony.  Now the colony owns the land but each member works for himself.


Another Iowa colony that believed in community ownership was a group of French  people known as Icarians.  The founder of this colony was Etienne Cabet who wrote a book called "Voyage en Icarie."  This told of a trip to an imaginary ideal community.  After reading the book, many French people wanted to establish a community such as had been described.  They decided to do so in America.  In February, 1848, sixty-nine Icarians, as Cabet's followers were called, left France for Texas.  They did not like conditions as they found them in that state and soon looked for a new location.  Since the Mormons had just left Nauvoo, Illinois, the Icarians went there and Cabet himself with about five hundred of his followers joined the colony at that place.

Some people said that the Icarians were not religious because the colony was not based upon religion.  In answer to this, Cabet said, "If anyone should say that the society is contrary to the laws of God, he would be mistaken.  We are Christians.  The Gospel is our law.  Our community is founded not only on fraternity, equality, and liberality - but also upon morality and temperance - on marriage and family relations - on education and industry - on peace and respect to the laws, and we shall always pray for the prosperity of the great and powerful American Republic."

The Icarians at Nauvoo quarreled and separated.  The smaller group under Cabet's leadership went to St. Louis.  In 1860 the larger group of nearly two hundred fifty moved to Adams County, Iowa.  They bought three thousand acres of land but since they could not pay for all of it they kept only about half.  The town which they built was named Icaria.  Mills and shops were built.  Many lines of business were carried on by the colony but farming was the chief occupation.

The Icarians were hard workers and carefully caved their money.  As a result, they became quite wealthy.  But, as in the case of the Amana colony in recent years, the younger members of the colony wanted to won property themselves.  Since the members could not agree on many matters, the colony was divided in 1877.  The younger party kept the village while the older party moved to a new location on the eastern end of the community lands.

In 1883 the younger party moved to California where the organization was soon broken up.  The older party received a new charter under the name of New Icaria.  It continued until 1895.  Then, with only twenty-one members left, it was necessary to dissolve the organization.  Each member received enough property to be considered fairly wealthy.


Another religious colony in which no one owns any land for himself is the Trappist monastery in Dubuque County.  The Cistercian or Trappist Monks founded this colony in 1849 and it is still active, although only a few monks live there at present.  They own and operate an extensive farm and have a number of fine buildings.


Charles B. Thompson, a Mormon from Nauvoo, started a colony near Onawa in Monona County in 1853.  The colony owned several thousand acres of land.  Thompson called himself "Father Ephraim" and the "Chief Steward of the Lord."  All the property was to belong to him.  Some of the men became dissatisfied.  They threatened to hang Thompson and chased out of Iowa.


One of the strangest colonies in Iowa was that founded by Abner Kneeland.  It was located south of Farmington, in Van Buren County.  Mr. Kneeland did not believe in God or any kind of religion.  In 1838 he founded a town called Salubria, in which people who believed as he did lived.  A few years later Kneeland died and the colony soon disappeared.


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