INDIANAPOLIS – 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 19th-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 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 stop by Confederate soldiers during Gen. 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 — in an early 19th-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.
“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.”