AMANA — Aaron Cronbaugh stood near the entrance of his business in Amana, formerly two homes that have been transformed into an eccentric retail space, like the upstairs “North Pole” with Christmas decorations galore.
As customers passed him with their purchased items in hand, Cronbaugh told the Press-Citizen that “there isn’t a bad store in town.”
Cronbaugh owns and operates Margie Jane’s with his wife and daughter.
It’s among the businesses newer to Amana, the seven historic villages in eastern Iowa that attract locals and tourists alike.
“Amana is one of these lucky little spots in the world,” Cronbaugh said.
He pointed to the fact that there’s practically no crime, how the community gathers after businesses close — and one more phenomenon that he observes frequently: It’s a place people can hear “please” and “thank you.”
“Each shop is privately owned,” he said. “Everyone puts their heart and soul (in it).”
With tourism season in full bloom, the Press-Citizen stopped into businesses in the Amana Colonies to hear from employees about what’s new, and what they’d recommend checking out when visiting the historic community.
Here’s what we found.
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What’s newer to Amana: The Ruedy House, Margie Jane’s and The Rusty Tractor
The Ruedy House is one of the newest attractions, located in Middle Amana. The brick home shares a lot with the Ruedy Kitchen. It opened in June as museum that replicates a traditional Amana home from two different time periods. Upstairs will depict Amana life from the community’s start in the 1850s through the 1920s, and downstairs will reflect a home from the 1920s through the 1960s, according to Jon Childers, director of the Amana Heritage Society.
Visitors can go on a self-guided tour to see preserved furnishings and get insight on the residents of the Ruedy House.
The house was built in 1863 and stayed within the Ruedy family until 2018, when the grandson of Marie Steinmüller and Carl Ruedy sold it to the Amana Heritage Society.
As part of the experience, visitors can see the Ruedy Kitchen, the only intact communal kitchen remaining in the Amanas, according to the Amana Heritage Society.
Each communal kitchen in Amana had a kitchen boss. The communal kitchen connected to the Ruedy House was first managed by Margaretha and Karoline Herr, according to the Amana Heritage Society.
Around 1895, they were replaced by Steinmüller, who later married Ruedy.
Inside the kitchen, visitors can see where meals were cooked, the multiple tables that would seat residents for their three meals plus two snacks a day, and a menu of what was typically eaten each day, including buckwheat cakes for breakfast, onion pies for lunch and stew for supper.
Kitchen furnishings, dishes and equipment are preserved from the time Steinmüller worked as the kitchen boss. The Ruedy Kitchen was closed on April 11, 1932, as communal life in Amana came to an end with what is called “the Great Change.”
The Ruedy House and kitchen is located at 1003 26th Ave. in Middle Amana.
The Ruedy House and kitchen is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 5-17, and free for those under 5.
For those headed to the storefronts off 220th Trail, there’s Margie Jane’s.
It is named after Cronbaugh’s grandmother, who brought him to Amana every weekend as a child.
He opened Margie Jane’s about two years ago, selling home and lawn décor, soaps and snacks. Cronbaugh said he will expand to include homemade ice cream and host a petting zoo.
Except for closing down in January, the business is open all year, Cronbaugh said. Margie Jane’s is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Across the street sits the site of a former communal kitchen turned part tea and lemonade café, part home décor store and part clothing boutique.
The Rusty Tractor opened about a year ago, its downstairs a small café with two rooms selling clothes and baby items, and its upstairs used to sell home décor and knickknacks.
The café and retail store, located at 4535 220th Trail, is open Sunday through Wednesday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Some Amana recommendations, including the Chocolate Haus, Hotel Millwright
From gemstone enthusiasts to the casual collector, the Noble Stone in Amana merges Iowa rock history to include special finds from places beyond the great corn state.
For starters, there’s plenty of fossils from Iowa from the Devonian period, fitting considering the Devonian Fossil Gorge near the Coralville Lake is just over 30 miles away. There’s geodes from Keokuk, and other minerals like quartz you’d expect to find in a place called the Noble Stone.
The store is colorful thanks to the array of gemstones and rocks in the shades of fuchsia, deep purple and amber. It also offers more unique finds like larimar, the blue stone that comes only from the Dominican Republic.
The Noble Stone is located at 4510 220th Trail, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
A more popular spot is the Chocolate Haus at 4521 220th Trail, as evidenced by it being repeatedly mentioned by employees at various businesses in Amana.
The Chocolate Haus sells chocolate, fudge, soft caramels, ice cream, coffee and tea. All candy is made from scratch. The sweet shop is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, until 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday.
For those that have yet to venture to Hotel Millwright, it’s a recommended spot regardless of whether you plan a long-term stay, thanks to the bar and restaurant connected to the hotel and the restored woolen mill.
The Amana Woolen Mill is the only remaining one in Iowa and has been in continuous operation since 1857, according to the Amana Society.
The 65-room hotel opened in 2020, offering visitors a chance to stay in Amana longer, or simply get a glimpse into the villages’ past.
Hotel Millwright is located at 800 48th Ave.
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach her at [email protected] or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.