Old Liberty Farm is as rich in history as its fertile, rolling slopes.
A 500-acre swath of land stretching from the high wooded ridge line to the banks of Tygarts Creek, Old Liberty Farm is named for the frontier village that once also called it home from the early 1800s until it faded away near the turn of the 20th century.
Remnants of Liberty remain visible today, but there is little recorded history about its past — most of what is known today has been passed down orally from generation to generation of residents.
A few old cemeteries and wells dot the land, which still shows evidence of the old pioneer road that once cut across it.
The larger Liberty Cemetery rests on a hill top alongside the farm. The site of the original Liberty Methodist Church, it contains graves of the direct descendents of the earliest settlers in the area, including members of the Dupuy and Howland families.
They are ancestors of Elizabeth Mann, who now owns and operates the modern Old Liberty Farm with her husband, John.
Elizabeth and John Mann are the third generation to raise cattle on the land, which her granddaddy Cabell Moseley first gained through a trade.
“He ran a general store in Mt. Hope, W.Va., and he got into a trade with a fellow that owned land down here,” Elizabeth said. “The man had relatives in Mt. Hope and they got acquainted and so he wound up starting to accumulate land and put the farm together.”
Elizabeth said she has been told that he traded his store for that first piece of land and then continued to buy tracts after relocating to Kentucky. When Moseley first moved to the property, he finished tearing down the village, removing more than a dozen old homes that were believed to have housed tan yard workers.
The tan yard, which primarily made shoes, was owned by Vermont native John Pratt who built his home on a small knoll overlooking it. The tan yard is believed to have been located near a giant beech tree and small spring both of which remain today.
John Pratt and his wife and son were buried near the old tan yard and the Manns believe Pratt’s death in 1849 started the decline of the Village of Liberty. The Civil War followed shortly and may have accelerated the disbursement of Liberty’s citizens.
“They may not have been incredibly popular as Yankees. We don’t know. That is just our theory,” said Elizabeth Mann.
John Mann says he believes that as the U.S. opened up more territories to settlement, villagers probably were enticed to move west as well.
“We don’t really know where they went; we’d say they probably just disbursed. I would love to know. It’s just all oral history. There are no pictures there is nothing written about it,” his wife added.
As late as 1879, the Village of Liberty is documented. A reprint of Kentucky’s 1879 State Gazetteer in the May 2003 Kentucky Explorer,describes Liberty, “also known as Lynn,” as having a daily mail service. A small business directory lists the Bennett flour mill, along with two Methodist ministers, a blacksmith, two physicians and a justice as being in Liberty.
Elizabeth Mann “quibbles with” accounts that Lynn and Liberty were the same place. It would most likely infuriate her granddaddy too, she says.
By 1909, however, the population of Liberty had vanished and by the time Elizabeth, now 66, and her older sister Araminta “Mino” Rolfes, now 72, were born the only remaining evidence of a town was Sonny Vanover’s Store and the Lynn post office, located a mile away on Ky. 7.
The Old Liberty Farm of Elizabeth Mann’s childhood is only slightly different from the Old Liberty Farm of today. Elizabeth describes it as “just cleaned up a good little bit” from then.
The Manns have torn down or converted several old, including a chicken house, which Elizabeth used to tend as a child and installed some modern infrastructure, including a water system that catches, stores and pipes spring water throughout the farm.
Cabell Moseley and Richard Dupuy after him ran Old Liberty Farm as a beef cattle operation. Dupuy ran the farm for close to 60 years, taking over for Moseley in the 1930s even before he had wed his daughter, Inez Moseley. Elizabeth Mann explained that Old Liberty Farm once joined the Dupuy farm where her father grew up, another Greenup Century Farm.
“Granddaddy Moseley needed someone to run the farm. My dad was the young man next door so to speak, just across the creek, so my daddy took over the job managing and running the farm,” said Elizabeth Mann.
“As my mother tells the story, he stood out at the well drinking water with his shirt off and ‘he was one good looking man.’ They were married in 1937 and he ran the farm until his death.”
After Richard Dupuy’s death in 1995, the fate of Old Liberty Farm came down to “run it or sell it,” recalls Elizabeth Mann. “Those were really the options. We didn’t want it to go. We have no idea what is going on the next generation but we knew we could make it a family farm for one more generation at least. That is what we’re doing,” she said.
“It has been fun,” said Elizabeth Mann, who added it has also been a challenge for the couple. The Manns are both retired educators and had spent nearly 30 years living in northern Kentucky.
When they returned, they relied heavily on their upbringings — John Mann was also raised on a working farm in Greenup County. His mother, who will be 97, continues to live on the farm just two miles away near Bennett’s Mill. The Manns continue to use her land to cut hay for their cattle.
“I was the one who sort of wanted to come back,” said John Mann. “I was 54 and retired.”
“On one hand it would be a much easier life if we had stayed where we were but, we would have missed it an awful lot too,” said Elizabeth Mann.
The couple first wondered if Old Liberty Farm and Greenup County would ever feel like home again, a worry that quickly dissipated. “We came back and in about five minutes we were home,” said Elizabeth Mann.
“It’s sort of like around here time just stands still to some degree … you can drive around here and it’s the same old roads almost like it was when we were young,” added John Mann.
Before they could move back and restart Old Liberty’s cattle operation, the couple spent close to two years restoring the farm to a workable state. With the help of a neighbor and his bulldozer, the Manns cleared brush, tore down old fences and restored an old livestock barn.
The Manns also originally planned to refurbish Mosley’s original 1909 Louisiana Lowland-style farmhouse but after consulting with builders they were advised to build a new home instead. The new house — a modern replica of the original — was built in the field that was once the family’s melon patch.
The Manns decided instead to rent out Elizabeth’s childhood home, which they did until it was destroyed by fire the day before Thanksgiving in 2002.
“That was gut-wrenching to watch that old house go up in flames,” recalled Elizabeth Mann, her eyes welling up with tears, “It was tough to give it up when that happened.”
The Manns have continued to improve the farm and refine their operation, implementing conservation practices and purchasing modern tools and machinery to assist them.
“We use all the land,” said John Mann. “We count on that first cutting of hay being very critical,” he said, adding the farm produces enough hay — more than 350 tons each year — to sustain their herd. The Manns also grow about five acres of corn for silage.
The Manns have also employed rotational grazing and use a no-plow method to seed their land in a variety of grasses and legumes that nourish both their soil and cattle.
The Manns keep more than 75 cows, mostly a mix of Angus and Charolais breeds, and two bulls. They breed the cows and bulls to produce calves, which they sell at various ages at stockyards in Lexington and Maysville.
Elizabeth’s cousins, Bill and Steve Howland, who live nearby and also raise cattle, have also been invaluable resources. They have shared their labor, guidance and equipment with the couple.
“They have just taken me under their wing,” said John Mann.
John Mann describes himself as an avid reader and adds he is constantly researching ways to improve his farm. The couple is also heavily involved with the Greenup County Farm Bureau, a tradition that goes back on Old Liberty to Dupuy. He served as the first president of the organization, when it was founded in 1944, a post John Mann has also held.
The Manns credit their involvement with the farm bureau for helping them to network, expand their knowledge and implement modern conservation methods to their farm. The Manns have also applied for grants from Kentucky’s Tobacco Settlement Fund and Greenup County Soil Conservation District to make improvements to both the farm’s infrastructure and its livestock.
Both have helped the farm become profitable but the Manns also have another resource: Their pensions. Although they don’t like to use that money regularly for farm expenses, it has allowed them the flexibility to do some of the things that needed to be done to help make the farm profitable.
“I don’t think you could work hard enough to make a living on a 500-acre farm,” said John Mann, “The margin of profit is so thin. It just wouldn’t be fair. We both have teacher retirements. You have to have a fallback. I don’t think you could subject your family to farming,”
“But it’s a wonderful way of life if they can do both,” added Elizabeth Mann.
“I’m so proud of what John has done since we have been back. He has been able to do some of the things my father couldn’t because of a lack of funds.
“I think Mom and Dad would be so proud if they could come have a look,” she added.