For their role in preserving Stream Cliff Farm outside Commiskey, in Jennings County, Betty and Gerald Manning won the 2020 John Arnold Award for Rural Preservation, presented by Indiana Landmarks and Indiana Farm Bureau.
Stream Cliff Farm’s impressive collection of nineteenth-century buildings initially supported traditional farming operations. Today they house the farm’s herb and flower business, restaurant, winery and special events venue.
Stream Cliff’s origins date back to 1821, when James Harmon moved from Maine to Indiana, where he established a farm using a land grant awarded to his father, a Revolutionary War veteran who served under Benedict Arnold. Harmon reportedly lived in a hollow tree while he built a barn and baked bricks to construct his farmhouse between 1836 and 1843. The property survived a visit by Confederate soldiers during General John Hunt Morgan’s raid through southern Indiana in 1863. Harmon died without heirs a few months later, leaving the farm to the Methodist church. Betty Manning’s ancestors bought the farm shortly thereafter, and since then six generations have worked on the property.
“There’s a longing to keep things nice so other generations can enjoy what you’ve enjoyed,” says Betty, who, with her husband, Gerald, took on the farm shortly after marrying in 1965. “I do recognize how special that is.”
Personal hobbies and gardening interests took the farm in a new direction around 1972, when the Mannings started selling crafts, cornhusk dolls and dried florals. They pressed Betty’s grandpa’s blacksmith shop—located in an early nineteenth-century cabin—back into service, creating hand-forged items to sell. They created quilt-shaped gardens in homage to Betty’s grandmother, an avid quilter and gardener. “We were practicing agritourism before it had a name,” says Betty.
As Stream Cliff’s flower and herb-growing business expanded, the Mannings repurposed more of the farm’s historic buildings. They converted a mid-nineteenth-century corncrib to a chapel and adapted the c.1821 English barn and a smaller nineteenth-century barn nearby to host weddings, receptions, and other events. A c.1868 building, believed to have been built to house workers constructing a nearby railroad, provides space for an antique and gift shop. A former chicken house became the farm store. Betty’s grandpa’s blacksmith shop is now used for selling indoor plants, while Gerald’s c.1970 blacksmith shop became a winery tasting room and gift shop.
Along with providing a destination for shopping and dining, Stream Cliff hosts wildflower walks, art shows, and classes on cooking, art, crafts, and gardening. Its restaurant, shops, and gardens are open mid-March through mid-October. During cold-weather months, the farm hosts special holiday teas, open houses, and fireside dinners prepared with the farm’s herbs. The Mannings share news, photos, and hours of operation for the property’s various ventures on the farm’s website, streamclifffarm.com.
“It may be a more difficult year to maintain growth. But each generation has taken its turn to hang onto this farm, sometimes under really adverse conditions,” says Betty. “My internal being says to keep what people have worked so hard to build. I’ll be darned if a pandemic brings us down.”
About Indiana Landmarks
Indiana Landmarks revitalizes communities, reconnects us to our heritage, and saves meaningful places. With nine offices located throughout the state, Indiana Landmarks helps people rescue endangered landmarks and restore historic neighborhoods and downtowns. People who join Indiana Landmarks receive its bimonthly magazine, Indiana Preservation. For more information on the not-for-profit organization, call 317-639-4534, 800-450-4534, or visit www.indianalandmarks.org.
About Indiana Farm Bureau
Since 1919, Indiana Farm Bureau has protected the livelihood, land, equipment, animals and crops of Hoosier farmers and is the state’s largest general farm organization. As a farmer’s strongest advocate, INFB works diligently to ensure a farmer’s right to farm, because agriculture is so vital to Indiana’s economy. Learn more at INFB.org.
Tommy Kleckner, Director, Indiana Landmarks’ Western Regional Office, office 812-232-4534, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mindi Woolman, Director of Marketing and Communications, Indiana Landmarks, office 317-639-4534, email@example.com
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