Visiting Kalona, Iowa: The Town & Amish Community (23 Photos)
Reader Lee Annette recently visited Kalona, Iowa – both the town and the surrounding Amish community.
Some of you might recall that Don Burke gave us a thorough look at this settlement in 2014, via his set of beautiful winter photos of the area.
Photo by Don Burke
Kalona is the oldest and largest Amish community in the Hawkeye State, comprising 11 churches in size. At least one of those churches is a New Order group, making this one of the few places where you’ll find both New Order and other affiliations in one settlement.
This was one of the first Amish communities I spent time in and have fond memories of it, though it’s been 15+ years since my time there.
I sold books to Amish in this community and remember one evening having some problem related to my car while stopped at one farm (locking my keys in my car, or maybe it was engine trouble?) and spending some time in one friendly Amish family’s kitchen.
I didn’t hang out in the town much, maybe driving through a couple of times.
Lee Annette gives us a look at both the town and the surrounding community. Looks like a cozy place to visit. The following are her photos and comments.
Kalona the Town & Businesses
Lee Annette: We went purely to buy the “made on site” peanut butter from the Kalona General Store in downtown.
It is the BEST ever. They only had 2 containers and they offered to make more for us (what??) so we ate at their small restaurant inside the store – all fantastically home made dishes.
When we were done we went to the counter to pay and saw them rolling away the peanut grinding machine. We bought about 8 containers of peanut butter. They sell 3-4 different kinds.
ACE Hardware was next. Super nice folks with a great upbeat sense of humor. I believe they are Mennonite.
Highlights: free popcorn and they use an antique cash register. I took a pic of it – not sure how it works.
Best of Iowa: Eclectic décor and gifts right beside antiques. They also have a small event area that you can rent out too.
Quilt blocks in the sidewalk: From Travel Iowa website – Patterns in 42 quilt blocks installed in sidewalks throughout the downtown reflect Biblical themes, trades and images from everyday life.
Take a tour at your own leisure, learning about each block.
Kalona Coffee House: Great coffee, warm décor, open seating and available rooms to socialize.
Golden Delight Bakery: Also a store with bulk items, Amish furniture and handmade items and of course a bakery.
Typical and tasty.
The Kalona Creamery:
The Kalona Amish Community
Erik: I didn’t get as many comments from Lee Annette for these photos, so I’ll take a crack at filling in.
Here’s the view from Golden Delight Bakery.
The Community Country Store Annex. “Annex” suggests there is another store, somewhere, attached to this one. Note the buggy parked at left:
A buggy traveling on a four-lane highway. This might be state highway 1 which bisects the settlement.
Not sure why the turn signal is on, unless the driver is merging over for a left turn.
An Amish school:
A big thank-you to Lee Annette for sharing with us today.
Very nice photos….especially like Anabaptist Mennonite timeline poster.
Thanks for these pictures. Fun to see sights of where I grew up. The 4 lane highway pictured is Hwy 22 traveling East from Hwy 1.
Neat to know, thanks Nate. Not remembering so well, I took a look at a map before I made my guess. 22 was my 2nd guess 🙂
Yes! This is heading West on Hwy. 22
Gosh I just want to go visit this town. Too bad for me it’s just too far for a day trip. It reminds me of a Dutch word gezellig which I believe is the same in German (Deutsch). Gezellig doesn’t translate very well into English but it means a good comfortable feeling, peaceful, pleasant, happy, just simply nice and cozy. I can almost smell the free popcorn. What could be more cozy?
I like the word! Seems to fit the concept you describe. Some words are just like that.
Wow…, has it been six years since I was there? And sadly, I hear that the cheese factory — with cheese kurds to die for — has closed down in that period.
I spent very little time in the non-Amish part of Kalona, so don’t have much insights in that area except to note that the Kalona Historical Society (google their website) is very helpful with information on the Amish and on tours of the area. They were very helpful to me both before and after my visit there.
Time flies doesn’t it! 6 for you, going on 16 for me. I would have guessed we put that post up 3 or 4 years ago.
How many Amish live in the Kalona area?
I’d estimate around 1500, based on 11 churches.
Don, The Kalona Creamery is the same as the Cheese Factory. It is still in business. You can buy their ice cream, cheese kurds, butter etc. Thank you Erik for posting these.
Thanks, Lee Annette. That’s good to know. I may have to swing by there if I have any traveling that way in my near future.
Absolutely! There is a lot more to do There than I touched base on. The downtown area is really booming. What small town has TWO quilt shops?? There’s also a newer bed and breakfast on highway one if you’re looking to spend the night somewhere besides the small 1950’s hotel.
Lee Annette, I read on this historic society website that there are in fact 5 (?) different Ananbaptist groups there in Kalona — a Mennonite, and four different Amish. I didn’t realize the diversity of the Amish there. Is there a way to easily distinguish one group from the other — different buggy characteristics, different dress, etc?
Yes, I stayed in that 1950s-esque motel while there, although the name as changed and it may have expanded since then. I believe it was called something like the Tractor Pull or something similar, which spoke to the owners love for tractors and maybe was even a tractor dealer?
The motel was formerly called the Pull’r Inn. It was built by the late Ernest Ropp who was a tractor puller and also owned Farmer’s Sales and Supplies, the local John Deere Dealer. Ernie died while at a tractor pull several years ago. His brother Vernon and Ernie’s sons continued the dealership for several years. Vernon is now a resident of Pleasant View Home. The Pull’r Inn is now the Dutch Country Inn. My association with the Kalona, Iowa area is close to 65 years. My brother took me to a horse sale at the Kalona Sales Barn when I was 4 years. One other note Kalona is the setting of the Hallmark Film called Harvest of Fire based on set fires in an Amish district in Pennsylvania several years ago.
Thanks for all of these pictures of the Kalona area. From about 1993 to 2013, I visited the commmunity once or twice a year while driving through the area on I-80 on my way to Minn. (Kalona is only about 20 miles south of I-80, near Iowa City).
The Kalona area has a beauty all its own, especially the area north and east of town, where there are a number of Amish stores. I’m familiar with the Community Country Store and its annex. If my memory is correct, the Community Country Store at 5757 James Ave. opened in about 1973 and was run for many years by 3 sisters, Dorothy, Esther and Alta. In the early to mid- 2000’s one of the sisters told me that they were training two relatives (I believe it was a niece and nephew) to run the store when the sisters would no longer be able to. Then, the last time I visited the area, I also went to the Community Country Store Annex which is pictured here and I understood that the annex store was being run by relatives. So, I’m wondering if the original store is still open, as well as the annex.
I’ve been in many Amish stores through the years, but I’ll never forget
Community Country, because it had the most merchandise neatly displayed (and reasonably priced) in a small area than I’ve ever seen in other Amish stores. I’m not sure of the status of the store and the sisters who ran it, although I know that Alta is now deceased. If it is open, it’s definitely worth a visit, as is the Stringtown Grocery, in the same general area northeast of Kalona. There were several other stores (and produce stands in the summer) in the same area that I liked to stop at, but I can’t remember their names.
Geo’s word “gezellig”, in one of the posts above, is an apt description of the Kalona area. It is refreshing to visit there, because it isn’t as over-commercialized as large Amish settlements are and the area is beautiful with its gently rolling hills. I am surprised this Amish settlement hasn’t grown more, considering how old it is. Maybe it’s the economy/employment availibility, etc. I got the feeling that many of the Amish in the Kalona area made their living by farming and I know that dependence on farming for a family’s main source of income is very challenging these days.
Also, I stayed at the motel many times in past years that Don referred to, and I remember the name being “Pull’r Inn”.
“Pull’r Inn” — You are quite right, Al.
How neat the quilt blocks are. I wasn’t aware of them before being painted on sidewalks but I find them most charming.
Thank you Lee Annette for sharing your pictures. Such a treat.
planning a visit
I want to visit the area with my 18 yr old grandaughter… She is totally unaware of the lifestyle of the Amish… DO U know if the tour is available now with this corona virus going on? I want to make the most of the trip with her since we are from the Mo. river Iowa area.