The Amish of Kalona, Iowa (32 Photos)

The Amish community at Kalona, Iowa is the ninth-oldest, having been founded in 1846 by Amish from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.  By what we see in the first photo below, that would predate the founding of the town itself by over 30 years.

This community permits a relatively high level of technology in the Amish world, including tractors used for field work.  There is a New Order Amish church at Kalona among the community’s 10 church districts.

Photographer Don Burke has taken a number of beautiful photos of the Kalona community, which he shares below along with a few comments.  You can view more of Don’s photos at his Flickr page.

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Kalona lies in Washington County in southeast Iowa, and apparently was named after someone’s bull.  The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway established the town in 1879.  Around 2,400 people live in Kalona.

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Amish farm buildings and homes rise from the hilly landscape outside Kalona. By rough estimate, there are probably between 1,200 and 1,500 Amish here.

kalona-amish-farm

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Amish children walking home from school.

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You can see a clear box-like shield on some of the vehicles in the following photos. Don says that “it is a weather guard, and according to one Amish lady they are a great help against the bitter weather.”

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For another example, this next photo was taken by Don not in Kalona but in the Jamesport, Missouri Amish community, showing what appears to be a similar guard.

jamesport-mo-amish-buggies

This structure, Don observes, is the “Amish Sunday School building, where Amish teens are given lessons in doctrine during the summer and taught German in the winter.”  Sunday School is uncommon among Amish.

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Update- Don passes on the following details on Sunday School, from a Kalona-area tour guide with outside input:

Both [buildings] are Sunday School Houses, they will have Sunday school Easter through Thanksgiving twice a month in these buildings, when you took your shot they would have been having German School.

So the elders would be the teachers, they teach both boys and girls once they are out of the 8th grade, usually 15 & 16 year olds, and they teach them more about the language and then about the Old Testament. This usually lasts 6 weeks, Mon-Sat from 9-4 everyday.

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“Amish snowman and woman, dressed in Amish clothes in front of an Amish house.”

melted-snowmenI hope you enjoyed this visit to the Kalona Amish community, and thanks again to Don.

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    49 Comments

    1. Gary Counterman

      Don, thanks for sharing your beautiful photos of the Amish in Kalona; Great way to begin today!

      1. Gary, you are most welcome. Glad that you enjoyed them.

    2. Al in Ky

      Thanks for the pictures. I’ve been to Kalona many times, but never in the winter so enjoyed the winter scenes. I like visiting Kalona because it is less commercialized than some large Amish communities. Kind of reminds me of the Arthur, Ill., settlement, although the terrain around Kalona is somewhat hilly, compared to the flat terrain around Arthur. The Stringtown area north of Kalona is my favorite part of the settlement.

      1. Thanks Al. This was my first time in Kalona (in fact, the first time I’ve been to IA), but really did enjoy the visit. Yes, this is less commercialized area like Author, IL (which I’ve visited only briefly). Mt. Hope, OH, — one of our favorite Amish places to visit — is another less commercialize (and hilly) Amish communities.

    3. I will be back in Iowa City next week, but won’t have time to visit Kalona. I hear Stringtown Grocery has a new building.

      1. Yes, Stringtown Grocery does have a new building. Sadly I was not able to visit there — I was told that they were closed on Tuesdays (which was the day of the week that I was there).

        1. Carolyn

          Stringtown's hours

          They are now open on Tuesday.

        2. TJ McCauley

          Donation of Farm Equipment

          I met some Amish people while doing RAGRBRAI a few years back and I have a donation for an Amish community that I think would be of great vallue. have a horse drawn hay rake that I still use on my small farm/ranch. I no longer raise alphafa and think this rake could be very useful to an Amish community. I’ve been on line, google, etc., and I cannot find any way to contact the Amish. Do you have a resource that you can direct me to or have them contact me? I hate to see this rake sit in a pasture unused when I know an Amish community could use it.
          I live outside of Blair Nebraska, just North of Omaha.
          Thanks
          TJ

    4. Erin

      Thanks for the virtual tour, Don and Erik! Kalona, IA is on my list of summer destinations.

      1. Glad you enjoyed it. Hope you enjoy your stay there this summer.

    5. Annmarie

      Beautiful pictures. Thanks!

    6. Linda Saul

      Amish of Kalona

      Thanks Don I live in Ontario and do full time driving for the Amish and several of my customers travel to Iowa , so nice to have an idea of the countryside they are visiting.

      1. You are most welcome, Linda. Always a joy to share the joy.

        FYI: There are a couple of Kalona websites (www.kalonaiowa.org and http://www.kalonachamber.com) that give helpful maps and other insights if you are going to that area. And if you’re in the area be sure to stop by the cheese factory and pick up some kurds. Warm them in a microwave ’til they melt — they are some kinda good!

    7. Kevin L.

      Thanks for these! We just visited there this fall, but it was a miserable day so we didnt see too much. Now i can!

      1. You are very welcome. Weather was fortunately clear for me while I was there, although the forecasted 2″ of snow ended up as little more than a dusting — which was disappointing. It was very cold — saw kids walking to school in temps below zero. But it was pretty good photography weather.

    8. Trish in Indiana

      So, the town “apparently was named after someone’s bull.” Doesn’t that beg the question, “Who/What was the bull named after?”

      Beautiful pictures! Winter is so lovely, when you can look at it from inside a warm office.

      It has been a long winter this year. I’m sure the people of Kalona, like the people of my region, are looking forward to its end.

      1. Kalona name origin

        Good question Trish. According to A Dictionary of Iowa Place-Names, “The town was named Kalona at the suggestion of a Mr. Myers. The railroad officials who christened the town were not aware that Kalona was the name of a Shorthorn bull owned by Myers.”

        http://books.google.com/books?id=DxagLIZHNv4C&lpg=PA119&pg=PA119#v=onepage&q&f=false

    9. Vicki

      Stringtown

      Hi Don,

      I was just at Stringtown Grocery two weeks ago. They are open everyday now except Sunday. Since they have opened their new store they are open on Tuesdays. We shop there about 2 – 3 times a year since it is over an hour drive, but well worth it!

      1. Cool. I’ll have to try to get by if/when I’m back in the area.

    10. Mary

      Kalona

      I believe that the town was originally called Bulltown Not sure if this was named after a bull or not.
      We have been visiting Kalona every spring and fall for about 14 years now. They have a wonderful Fall Festival in late september every year. The streets in the downtown area have inlaid quilt squares, really something. We stay in the city park campground. Very nice facilities and good price. Able to walk into town from there. They accomodate large RV’s very well, also.
      We Love Kalona

      Also, there are Amish tours available at the chamber of commerce

      Mary from Minnesota

      1. Marshall Sawyers

        Campground

        Mary;

        IS THAT CAMPGROUND OPEN THROUGH OUT THE SUMMER?

        1. mary

          Yes, I believe it opens in mid April-mid October.

    11. ShipshewanaIndiana

      Thanks for sharing Don!

    12. Derek

      I just love the photographs. Very well done!

    13. Juanita Cook

      Thanks for sharing all these very n ice pictures with us. ♥

    14. Jasmine

      Kalona, Iowa

      Kalona is about 120 miles from us and we try to visit once a year, more if I had my way. I’m very anxious to see the new Stringtown Grocery store. I loved their previous one and could always find items not sold elsewhere. Prices of most items were modest and their baked goods were superior. Be sure to visit the cheese factory and buy some curds (delicious). We also have had meals with the Amish but you must contact Nancy at the Chamber of Commmerce to be placed with others for a meal. They don’t have them every day but it’s worth waiting for. We’ve eaten at Salina Borntrager’s a couple of times and she puts on quite a wonderful meal.

    15. rick

      buggies

      Question: In the close-up of the buggy 3 up from the bottom, what am I seeing up high on the side just behind the side window? In looking at the buggy coming up the snowy road (great pic, by the way), I see them symmetrical at that height. In the rear shot of the buggy going away (pic below close-up of red barn), that piece on the right side is much larger than that piece on the left side.

      I didn’t find the answer in “Plain Buggies” by Stephen Scott, though it did talk a little about the slide down doors, which were also new to me.

      Thanks.

      1. Trish in Indiana

        It’s a red light. They are on both sides of the buggies, and at night they flash continuously. They’re not really turn signals or brake lights, because they just keep flashing the whole time. They are an important safety feature. The reflective diamonds on the back really are only visible at night if your car’s headlights hit them just right from relatively close, so the flashing lights are usually the first sign that you are coming up on a buggy in the dark.

      2. Rick, what you are looking at in each of the shots you mentioned are actually the rearview mirrors. On the first one it looks really odd because the side window is in front of the mirror. But we have to remember that the buggy is normally driven with the door open (i.e., slid backwards) in warmer temps. If you will look closely you can actually see a second small window behind the mirror — this is the window that the driver looks through when the door is closed. When opened, the two small windows line up, and the driver looks through both to see the mirror outside.

        On the shot below the red barn close-up you are looking at the same thing. However, there is also a mailbox on the side of the road beyond the buggy, and its position makes it look like it is a part of that buggy — but it isn’t.

        If you see a buggy from the rear is silhouette (e.g., http://www.flickr.com/photos/ozarkinspirations/13149736343/) often the rearview mirror are the higher items on either side. In my experience the headlight/flashers are mounted lower (see picture). But buggies vary considerably from place to place. (If you’re interested in doing a little looking, I have pictures from some half dozen Amish communities that I have visited, and you can see some of the differences: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ozarkinspirations/collections/72157635073844593/ )

        1. Joe

          Buggies

          In the third picture from the bottom, this buggy’s door opens up like a garage door, from the bottom up. Not front to back. They call it a “buggy slide”. Some communities have doors on them that you manually roll them up and fasten them up with straps like a curtain.

          1. I Stand Corrected

            Joe, I had not noticed that before. I do have some pics from Kalona with the roll-type doors up — and I’ve seen similar in other communities. But I’ve never seen the “garage door” type doors anywhere that I have been. And in the 10th picture from the bottom (long, slender picture with a lot of buggies in it), on the far right there is a longer buggy with *two* sets of such doors on the same side. When I enlarge my original images I can see the handles at the bottom of the doors.

            Well, I’ve learned something new. Thanks for pointing that out!

    16. Al in Ky

      I also wanted to mention that for anyone visiting Kalona area, be sure to visit the Community Country Store on James Ave, not too far from Stringtown area. It is amazing how many different types of merchandise they sell at this little store. It has been operated by three sisters (Dorothy, Alta, and Esther) for many years. One of the sisters passed away a few years ago (I think it was Alta), but as far as I know the store is still in business. Sells household items, shoes, bulk foods, some clothing items, toys,baked goods, etc. Just ask around and look for signs for other Amish farms in the area selling other types of goods.

      1. Richard Miller

        I never knew the name. Always knew it as “Dorthy’s Store”. They are related to my dad.

    17. Stephanie

      Thank you for the beautiful pictures my family come from the Kalona. I’ve never been there but my dad was born an raised an I’ve heard him tell stories of when he was little an having to walk to school in the snow an other stories it was just nice to see a little of where he’s from.

    18. Chris

      As a resident of Kalona, picture #2 with the stop light was not taken in Kalona. Thanks

      1. Chris, I hate to disagree with you, but I’ve double-checked my picture log and I don’t see how I could have been anywhere else when I took this. I’m sorry that I don’t know the town layout better, but I think I was probably on 9th Street, facing north toward Hwy 22 E (E Ave). I want to say I was in the area near the library — or at least that was what I was looking for at the time. I think that maybe there was a Casey’s on Hwy 22 near the intersection that the picture is looking toward.

        1. Chris, I’ve done a little more looking, and it seems I was mistaken on the 9th St. part. Instead it looks to be 6th Street — but still facing north toward Hwy 22. I took a picture at the hitching post at what appears to be the SE side of the Kalona Public Library exactly 30 sec. prior to the picture in question, so the 6th St. and E Ave. intersection is about the only one that I could have gotten to in that amount of time.

      2. Doug

        Not sure what town of Kalona Chris lives in, but as a resident of Kalona, picture #2 was taken in Kalona. It is looking north up 6th street and the intersection of Hwy 22 (also known as E Ave.) This is the only stop light intersection in Kalona and is to assist the children crossing Hwy 22 from the south side of the highway to the north side where the Mid Prairie Kalona Elementary and Middle School are located. And I don’t need Google Map to confirm that.

        1. Thanks for the confirmation, Doug. But I understand where Chris and Bruce are coming from. Lots of times different angles or different magnifications in a pictures do make it look a little different than it really is. But it is nice for a local to recognize that it is what it is. 😉

          I hope ya’ll have a great day!

    19. Bruce, Kalona Native

      Hey Don . . .

      I’ve looked back and forth between your image and the street scene from Google Maps quite a few times. It’s really hard to say that there’s a good match between your image and the Google Maps street scene.

      But I’m wondering if depth of field is at play here. The distance between where you are (6th St. near the Library Hitch Rack) to the E Ave. stoplight is probably 3 normal city blocks. Therefore, the distance from where you are to the horizon in the shot is approx. 3/4 of a mile. Would a deep depth of filed “compress” this to make it look a lot different? That would explain why the intersection doesn’t look at all like it does in reality.

      For comparison, check the street view from Google maps. In a head-to-head comparison, your shot sure doesn’t look like Kalona. For example, your shot has a row of mailboxes on the left side of the street (that would be the west side). A look at street view on Google Maps would show those uniformly spaced mailboxes and they just aren’t there. Likewise, there are few trees near the intersection. They were removed when Kalona Veterinary built on the southwest corner, removed when Casey’s built on the northeast corner and were never there on the northwest corner (gas station).

      Conversely, your shot does capture the solar panel on the cross walk sign near the school, though that’s roughly 2/10ths of a mile north of the streetlight.

      Kalona or not, I’m guessing you certainly did take the shot in Iowa. The van behind the buggy has a front plate that appears to have the blue/white Iowa license tag color scheme.

      The other pictures are top notch (so’s this one for that matter). Lot’s of pride in our little town!

      1. Google Maps — good idea. I’m looking right now at GM for 400-498 6th St. (facing north) and comparing it to my uncropped original image. The two are the same…, but so very different. Obviously season of the year plays into this, with leaves obscuring the view a bit on GM. Camera lens difference plays a *huge* difference. The effective length on my zoom at the time is something like 130mm; that compared to what was likely a near-fish-eye lens on the roving GM camera. This means that my image “squishes” the two school warning signs together while the other would likely make them look further apart (cf. to normal vision). Also the GM image is taken from the West side of the street, mine from the East — not a lot of difference, but certainly exaggerates the previously mentioned ones. Then add that a semi is across the intersection in the GM blocking the view of Casey’s at this instant.

        But if you look to the right of the school warning signs in my image you can see a brick building — that is the Casey’s (although it’s hardly recognizable). What you can not see in my image because of my cropping is the very same RV that is on the extreme left of the GM image. The awning on the building across 6th St. from Caseys is the same in both pics. There are other details, but I’m afraid I would only be belaboring the point.

        I appreciate your observation — always good to have someone keeping me accountable.

        There is certainly reason for your town-pride — looks like a nice place to live. Was a nice place to be for my first visit to your state. Oh, and thanks for the compliments on the pics.

        1. Please note that my haha in brackets was omitted/removed by the system when I clicked “submit” — I was trying to be humorous, but the way it was processed might not look that way.

    20. Adam

      I was born in Davenport and spent part of my childhood there, but I don’t remember going to Kalona. But, the way my mother talks, I probably have, I just don’t remember it. Very cool. I can honestly tell you that it gets very cold in Iowa during the winter (I can hear the Minnesotans laughing at me), so enclosed buggy makes a lot of sense. That said, with regards to the weather, I’ve been in the deep south so long that 50 degrees Fahrenheit now feels cold to me.

      1. Hello Adam. I grew up in the deep south (LA — as in Lower Arkansas (ha)), so let the MN folk laugh, but you and I both know IA can get cold. Actually, this was 1 or only 2 trips I’ve made into IA, and the only one that was in winter, but the -2° when I got up the second morning to leave was way cold enough for this southern boy. (ha)

    21. Lamar

      Buggies

      Hi Don,
      Great pictures! I’m a couple years late to the discussion but I thought I’d throw my two cents in. Since I grew up Amish in Kalona maybe it’s worth 4 cents! Kalona IA has a very unique style of buggy. Only a couple other communities have a similar style and they are different enough to be easily distinguished. The Kalona community has one of the very few buggies that have what is called a slide curtain instead of a sliding door like the ones that you have pictured from Jamesport. Around Kalona the buggies that are made like the other communities use are called “cracker box buggies” after the square shape. If you look at the closeup of the buggy in the third from the bottom picture you can see what is called the “boot” back between the two rear wheels. Sounds sort of British, right? The boot has a hinged lid that you can lift to store “stuff.” That’s where the horse blanket will go when Dad wants to go home. That’s right, that is my Dad’s buggy, I traveled many a mile in that very buggy.

    22. Hello

      Hey Lamar. Unquestionably worth 4 cents — I’d even say as much as 2 bits. (ha)

      My trip to Kalona goes back some 4 1/2 yrs, and that was relatively early in my Amish sojourn. So even looking back at the pictures now I see them from a much broader context — and your observations expand that even further.

      I had noticed the unique “cut” (design) of the Kalona buggies even back then, but didn’t know about the boot/trunk. (I was born in North Carolina, and they use the term “boot,” too (so I’m told — I was only a year-and-a-half when Dad got out of the Air Force there, so don’t remember it myself. But Mom and Dad have talked about it a lot.)) I had noticed the difference in doors, too, but never figured out if the would slide front-to-back, or bottom-to-top.

      Wow, so I caught a nostalgic pic of a familiar buggy? Cool.

      Thanks for your reply.

    23. Dorotohy Thornton

      Group visit to Kalona mid April 2020

      Our group is coming to Riverside Casino, IA,
      We would like to possibly visit this Amish of Kalona Community, how
      far is this from Riverside? Would we be able to have a tour and buy things? thank you

    24. Doug Yotty

      Visit to Kalona

      From the casino, Kalona is approx. 10 miles to the west.

      I would suggest you contact either the Chamber at 319.656.2660 or the Kalona Historical Village at 319.656.2519 or kalonatours@kctc.net