Big Night in the Amana Colonies
The 16th night of our road trip landed us in The Amana Colonies of Iowa. It was October 5, which happened to be Don's 60th birthday. This is not the place most wish for, when dreaming up big landmark birthday celebrations.
But Don was busy trying to ignore his birthday, so we didn't really need a lavish hotel with ballrooms and champagne. Besides, who says you can't celebrate in the Amana Colonies? We aren't talking Amish... although many confuse them.
Our hotel was built in 1862, when the 4-block town of Homestead needed accommodations for travelers arriving at the nearby stagecoach stop and train depot.
At 20 years old, Homestead was then, the youngest of the 7 villages that made up The Amana's.
In 1862 the hotel opened with 15 guest rooms and one bathroom, all upstairs. The kitchen, dining room and private residence were downstairs. The hotel was probably pretty skilled at serving large groups of guests since at one time the Amana's had over 50 communal kitchens.
The German immigrants, who made up the Amana Colonies lived a communal life, sharing everything from labor to food. There were no pay checks, children went to school 6 days a week and worship services were attended 11 times a week. Sounds like a fun place for a birthday celebration to me!
The Amana's set aside communal living in 1932 and today you can find lots of beer in the German villages!
But the best part is how amazingly peaceful it still is, despite some weekend tourists. This was the view right outside the door.
We arrived at 6 on Sunday evening and headed into the little welcome area. Owners, Bonnie and Brian greeted us from behind the desk.
Brian wore overalls and sighed like he'd just come in from a hard day's work on the farm. Bonnie laughed that it had indeed been quite a day. But they weren't exhausted by farm work. The Amana's had been celebrating Octoberfest all weekend. They were happily exhausted from all the tourism.
Bonnie and Bill are not the Zubers. The hotel is named for Bill Zuber who grew up in The Amana's and had a 19-year career in pro baseball.
He and his wife bought the hotel in 1949 and operated as a restaurant until 2006. His old uniforms were on display behind glass and a tile floor near the kitchen showed an image of Zuber pitching.
Wagon Wheel Room
This room was added by the Zubers in 1961. It reminded me of my own family room in Grinnell, Iowa back in the '60's.
Something about the paneling and lots of Americana... and games and TV! It was pretty cozy and welcoming, especially since brownie treats and coffee were up for grabs.
The whole interior felt more 1962 than 1862. There have been other more recent updates, but I kind of liked the odd '60's feel.
It was easier to picture Dick, Jane and Sally roaming these halls than a little German girl with long braids and an apron.
Our corner room was on the second floor. It had a train theme going on, that would have thrilled the Birthday Boy about 50+ years ago. (I should have gotten him some railroad pjs for his birthday!)
But l love trains and I love a theme, so I took it all in, from train books, to a framed map of rail lines, to lanterns, to a beautiful model train crafted by a local.
Trains at Night
It was very quiet after we got back from a German feast at Ronnenburg's that night.
I think the hotel was actually full, but there seemed to be quite a few old-timers staying over, who turned in early. No TV noise or traffic sounds to keep us awake. Just a few soothing train whistles that fit the theme!
A breakfast buffet was served in the Wagon Wheel Room. Unlike this photo (taken the evening before) almost every table was taken. The old timers who went to bed early were up early, too. In fact I looked around and wondered where these folks came from.
In the past, Don and I have met incredibly interesting and incredibly dull people at B&Bs. This was one of those times I was sort of relieved not to be sharing a big table with fellow guests, all talking about what fall crafts were purchased at the Octoberfest.
Don is talking to the Diane, who cooked the wonderful buffet. Diane was more delightful than dull and her food was excellent!
She's looking a little serious here, because we just handed her our Ford Motor Cookbook from 1952. It had an illustration of "Bill Zuber's Restaurant" and a recipe for Obst Kuchen.
Breakfast and the Book
This dull photo does not reveal the delicious flavors of my breakfast! Egg casserole with tomato and corn, poppyseed coffee cake, orange French toast...! It was a nice change having a B&B buffet and getting to choose!
I was glad I kept the cookbook handy since Bonnie and Brian stopped in to greet folks. They were both pretty thrilled to see this retro book and asked to make photo copies. Who knows, they may be serving up that odd, rhubarb filled fruit cake before long!
We stayed in a hotel, built in a communal village. That's what I'll remember. It had a completely different feel than other historic hotels or Victorian Bed & Breakfasts. It wasn't a ranch and it wasn't a lodge and it certainly wasn't a motel or motor court.
Mostly it was just plain comfortable. Bonnie, Brian and Diane all welcomed us as if we were neighbors that they cared about but weren't trying to impress. Maybe that doesn't sound like a compliment, but to me that was just what was needed on the 16th night of our trip.
As for the Colonies? I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea of our hotel being part of a German speaking community, 152 years ago. I'm already itching to go back and absorb all the history we didn't have time for!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!