The National Park Service is looking for some fresh agricultural tenants at Manassas National Battlefield Park.
The park service set a February deadline for applications to use about 1,300 acres for agricultural purposes, but says it still has open hay fields that can be leased for $15 an acre.
“We’re tasked with trying to maintain the landscape as it was during the Civil War, and we’ve got these thousand acres or so of open field,” said Bryan Gorsira, a wildlife biologist at the park. “So in order to prevent us from having to use maintenance to mow these fields every year, we went the agricultural lease route so that we can maintain these fields in an open state.”
The park has been leasing agricultural land on site in some form or another for about 25 years. But Gorsira said some tenants recently gave up their acreage. As a result, the park service called for new applications for 13 different parcels, ranging in size from 18 to over 100 acres.
Most of the farmers use the hay for cattle and horses, but one of the remaining tenants uses his for mulch that’s sold to mushroom farms in Pennsylvania.
The 10-year leases come with certain restrictions, though. All hay has to be cut between July 1 and Sept. 1 and must be done in small square bales or round bales using small farm equipment. Bigger trailers wouldn’t fit with the historic character of the park.
And, of course, farmers have to keep an eye out for visitors.
“When the farmers are cutting, they look out for visitors and do their best not to run them over and bale them up,” Gorsira said. “So it’s compatible with the use of the park.”
For farmers, the land also comes with the history. The Dogan farm, where 121 acres are available, is named for Lucinda Dogan, who once lived there. Dogan saw both battles at Manassas, reportedly tending to regimens on both sides of the conflict. Brooklyn’s 14th Regiment, wrote of her kind nature in a memorial book following the war, after a group of Union veterans returned to visit her. And when she died at the age of 93 in 1910, obituaries were published in The Manassas Journal and The Manassas Democrat.
“She saw from her home Burnside’s advance out of the Sudley woods on that fateful Sunday of July 21st . She watched the fighting on Henry Hill and heard the first ‘rebel yell,’ as the Federal line gave way,” the Journal’s obituary read. “About that time three stragglers came to her home for food. She told them they must surrender their arms, which they did. She kept them to the next day and turned them over as prisoners. So that it is probable she captured the first prisoner of war in the first battle.”
The Brawner Farm, where seven tracts are available, was originally bought by a Revolutionary War veteran named George Tennille. The farm’s development coincided with an increase in Virginia’s agricultural output after a period of decline, with the help of newly available crop rotation techniques and fertilizer.
During the Second Battle of Manassas, the farmhouse “anchored the right of the Confederate line on the evening of August 28, 1862, and the conflict continued to rage on the property over the next two days,” according to the park service’s history of the site. The tract also housed Robert E. Lee’s headquarters during the battle.
“Although it wasn’t an especially prosperous farm, this property has continually been devoted to agricultural practices, which have helped to preserve the historic landscape of the battlefield,” the history reads.