I said goodbye to Zanesville and headed to Iowa, where I would visit my stepmom’s son David and his wife Ellen, who live on a small farm in Burlington. The weather was still spring-like when I arrived in the Hawkeye state. My mother was born in Davenport, just up the Mississippi River from Burlington, and I had visited several times when I was very young, but I had never been anywhere else in Iowa. My stepmom grew up in Burlington.
Life is so different in small midwestern cities. The whole economy is a world away from places like DC and Seattle. I saw some grand old homes, probably the most expensive in Burlington, and asked David how much one might cost. He replied about $150,000. What a bargain! I could buy two for what I would likely pay in Seattle.
My step-kin showed me the highlights of Burlington, which included Snake Alley, a narrow brick-paved, winding road that rivals Lombard Street in San Francisco. Snake Alley was designed by German immigrants and built in 1894. Iowa was settled by many Germans. My maternal ancestors came from Germany. I stood, with David and Ellen, on a hill overlooking the mighty Mississippi and the Great River Bridge, which links Burlington to Gulf Port, Illinois. It’s always impressive to see this river that is so intertwined with American culture.
I did something else I’d never done before: forage for morels. Ellen and David have a “secret” patch next to their house, and I was able to find a few of the delectable fungi to add to the bag. Then they showed me the tiny old cemetery across the road, which they voluntarily care for, cutting the grass and keeping it up. After a pleasant visit in Burlington, it was time to move on.
Heading toward Colorado, I had a goal of picking up some states I had never been to. I planned to drive through Nebraska and pick up a corner of Kansas on the way. But first, I couldn’t resist stopping at the Amana Colonies, so detoured there for an hour or so. I had heard of this place but didn’t know too much about it. The area is a National Historic Landmark. The seven villages began with a familiar story of a religious people suffering persecution. This group fled Germany and came to the United States, settling first near Buffalo, NY. When they sought more farmland, they looked to Iowa. I’ll quote from amanacolonies.com:
“In 1855 they arrived in Iowa … The leaders chose the name Amana from the Song of Solomon 4:8. Amana means to “remain true.” Six villages were established, a mile or two apart, across a river valley tract of some 26,000 acres – Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana and Middle Amana. The village of Homestead was added in 1861, giving the Colony access to the railroad … Residents received a home, medical care, meals, all household necessities, and schooling for their children. Property and resources were shared. Men and women were assigned jobs by their village council of brethren. No one received a wage. No one needed one …. Farming and the production of wool and calico supported the community, but village enterprises, everything from clock making to brewing, were vital; and well-crafted products became a hallmark of the Amanas … In 1932, amidst America’s Great Depression, Amana set aside its communal way of life. A ruinous farm market and changes in the rural economy contributed, but what finally propelled the change was a strong desire on the part of residents to maintain their community. By 1932, the communal way of life was seen as a barrier to achieving individual goals, so rather than leave or watch their children leave, they changed. They established the Amana Society, Inc. a profit-sharing corporation to manage the farmland, the mills and the larger enterprises. Private enterprise was encouraged. The Amana Church was maintained.”
I visited several buildings and found a hearty lunch before resuming my trip. I drove on to Nebraska and learned that it’s not all flat! There is some hilly country there. I passed by Omaha, the largest city in the state, settling in Lincoln for the night. The next morning I headed for Colorado, driving through Kansas first.
One thought on “A Journey West, Part 2”
An absorbing article, Joan – I always enjoy reading history folded into a contemporary journey. Can’t believe the low property prices, by the way – quite amazing! Glad you had such a good time, and no doubt your mom would be particularly proud of your details here about people who settled in the Midwest. ‘Well done you!’, as they say here in the UK.