Amana Heritage Society plans expansions at Communal Kitchen Museum

Pickled beets are served at a meal at the Ruedy Home and Amana Communal Kitchen Museum in Middle Amana on Sunday, May 5,
Pickled beets are served at a meal at the Ruedy Home and Amana Communal Kitchen Museum in Middle Amana on Sunday, May 5, 2019. The Amana Heritage Society is purchasing the Ruedy home and plans to expand programming at the site, including communal meals featuring classic recipes from the Amana kitchens. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

MIDDLE AMANA — On a wall of the Amana Communal Kitchen Museum in Middle Amana hangs a black and white photograph from 1926. It shows a row of women sitting on the kitchen’s porch, preparing vegetables.

One of them is Marie Ruedy, the kitchen boss. During the days when the Amana Colonies were communal societies, she oversaw the preparation of three square meals a day, plus twice-daily coffee breaks, for the 35 to 45 people assigned to her kitchen.

The communal period ended in 1932, and with it, the use of the communal kitchens as the center of social life in the Amanas. But at this museum, run by the Amana Heritage Society, that history is kept alive through tours and regular communal meals served to the public.

Now, the Heritage Society will expand that effort. The Ruedy family, who owned the museum and adjacent house and outbuildings, is selling the entire property to the Heritage Society. The Heritage Society has been leasing the museum since 1983, but Executive Director Jon Childers said owning the property outright opens up exciting new possibilities for preserving Amana history, with the chance to turn the house into a museum as well.

“We want to keep building that collective memory and keeping our history alive,” he said.

A long history

The communal kitchen and the house were built in 1863, and the kitchen was used communally until April 11, 1932, as one of nine communal kitchens in Middle Amana — the other villages also had kitchens.

Only two families have ever lived in the adjacent house — the Herr family were the original inhabitants, with the Ruedy family taking over in 1895.


In the 1950s, as tourism in the Amanas was increasing, family friend Bill Zuber, who owned Zuber’s Dugout Restaurant, asked if he could take customers through the kitchen. The family agreed and began operating the space as a private museum in 1955 while still living in the house.

The house and kitchen still are full of furniture, photographs and kitchen items from throughout the home’s history, and the family has donated about $60,000 worth of artifacts to the Heritage Society over the years, Childers said.

George Ruedy, the grandson of the one-time kitchen boss Marie Ruedy, now lives in Cedar Rapids with his wife, Shirley, a former Gazette reporter. His mother also was named Marie Ruedy, and she and her husband, Fred, were the ones to start the museum.

She died in 2010, and George Ruedy said the family hopes the sale to the Heritage Society will help keep the legacy of both Maries alive.

“Mother was always worried about what was gong to happen to the house when she passed on. She was very protective of the house,” he said.

Creating a new museum

Childers said the plan for the house museum is to tell both the story of the communal era and of how families navigated the transition. They hope to stage the communal era on the second floor, dedicated to the Herr family that originally lived in the home, while leaving more modern elements on the first floor and dedicating that space to the Ruedy family’s story between 1900 and the 1950s.

He said most of the Heritage Society’s museum properties reflect the communal period, and the house is a chance to reflect the culture of the colonies more broadly.

“We’d like to show how people had this shag carpet at the same time they had the wooden furniture their grandparents built. We don’t have that transition and change and continuity represented elsewhere,” he said.


They’re aiming for the renovations to be complete and the new house museum to be open between 2021 and 2022.

“Having an authentic space to show off the artifacts and lives of the people who lived here is really unique,” Heritage Society curator Rebecca Dickman said.

The society is trying to raise about $200,000, which would cover the purchase price along with renovations. It has raised about $100,000 so far, mostly from society members and families in Amana.

“They want to make sure this legacy lasts,” Childers said. “This is a place you can come as a visitor and see what communal life was like.”

The outbuildings include a wash house, wood shed and chicken house, which the Heritage Society plans to use as a staging space for public events and exhibitions.

“We want to engage folks with our culinary heritage,” Childers said.

That’s good news for George Ruedy, who said he has fond memories of both his mother and grandmother sharing traditional Amana recipes.

“Grandmother was a good cook. She was running a restaurant, so to speak, for 35 to 45 people,” he said.

In addition to cooking three meals and snacks for each family assigned to them as well as day laborers, each communal kitchen put up pickles, canned vegetables, jams and sauerkraut for winter eating and for sale outside the community.


When he was growing up, George Ruedy’s grandparents lived on the first floor, while his parents and he and his siblings lived upstairs. When the kitchen museum opened, his younger brother and sister were pressed into service as tour guides. He was in college at the time, but took up the tour guide role again in 2003, after he retired, continuing until about a year ago.

“The Amana heritage is a big thing. Even now, we try to pass it to our child and grandchildren,” he said. “It’s a fading thing, but you try to keep it going.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8339;

If You Go

• What: Amana Communal Kitchen Museum

• Where: 1003 26th Ave., Middle Amana

• When: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays in May, September and October and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturdays in June, July and August.

• Admission: $8 for 18 years and older, $4 for 5 to 17 years, free for children under 5. Includes admission to the Amana Heritage Museum, the Communal Kitchen and the Community Church Museum.

• Communal dinners: Held at the museum throughout the summer and fall; upcoming dinners are 5:30 p.m. June 8 and 22, July 13 and 27, and August 3, 17 and 24, and Sept. 7. Dinners are $25; RSVP required.

• Details: (319) 622-3567,

• Amana tours: Visitors can also see the Communal Kitchen and sample traditional recipes as part of a Village Voyage group tour; learn more at or call (319) 622-7622.

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