Jeff Popenhagen wants those who come to the Amana Colonies to stay longer, and he’s pretty confident Hotel Millwright is exactly the way to do it.
“We used a preservation strategy many historic (facilities) have used,” explained Popenhagen, the Amana Society’s director of marketing, during a press event Wednesday. “When a function of a building becomes less optimal, we look for a way to find a business that can come in and bring the building back to life.”
Although the hotel has been operating since early in the month (and the textile mill more than 100 years before that), the facility celebrated its grand opening Oct. 21, the fruition of a conversion years in the planning.
Below an event space mill workers operate machines during the grand opening at Hotel Millwright, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in Amana, Iowa. (Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen)
Remodeling a mill
“The history of weaving in the Amana Colonies goes all the way back to Germany,” said David Retting, the executive director of the Amana Visitors Bureau.
The Community of True Inspiration, the religious group that founded the Amana Colonies, first arrived in New York state while fleeing religious persecution. After a time in Buffalo, they moved further west, bringing the tradition of wool weaving with them and building what is now the Hotel Millwright as a textile mill in 1855.
Although the edifice has been largely repurposed, its original intent has not been lost.
On Wednesday, while dozens celebrated the hotel’s opening on the second floor of Amana’s historic weaving building — a 7,000 square foot event center called The Merino Loft — textile workers were still using the first and third floors of the building.
“There’s a lot of synergy between the hotel and the mill,” said hotel general manager Nicole Warner.
Although the need for what was once 13 buildings has diminished over the years for a variety of reasons, new blankets, bags and other materials are still being made. It’s in those portions of the building still dedicated to weaving that bed scarves and other accent pieces for the hotel are made.
Those walking the halls of the hotel will see a variety of equipment from its past life. Things such as fans, drills and other industrial-era machinery furnish the space, displaying its history. Historic photos — both inside and outside the guest rooms — indicate what function that part of the building served in bygone days.
The lobby, for example, used to be a boiler room, and the Electric Thread Social Club is where the physical mill itself met the water.
Although all 65 rooms at the pet-friendly hotel are unique, there are five different types of accommodations. These room options extend from the standard rooms (the Amana King and the Amana Two Queen)