On a golden October afternoon on the outskirts of Strawberry Mansion, a crowd gathered around a hand-cranked wooden press to squeeze out fresh apple cider. On the lawn, children painted pumpkins and ate freshly made treats.

In the shadow of one of the city's historic treasures, Saturday's seventh annual Woodford Orchard Apple Harvest Festival in Fairmount Park brought to life centuries-old crafts - and showcased one of the city's most unusual learning environments.

Among the fruits of age-old talents on display, bakers shared homemade apple muffins, apple sauce, and pies to be judged and then quickly consumed.

Held on the grounds of Woodford Mansion, the event provided families a few hours to celebrate the bounty of an orchard revived in 2008 by local civic groups.

"Every year it grows," said Martha Moffat, the mansion's site manager. "The community really looks forward to it."

Moffat was referring to the festival crowd - this time in the vicinity of 75 people - but the same could be said for the orchard, which expanded by 31 trees in 2010.

The Georgian home, built in 1756, serves as a peaceful 12-acre retreat just a short walk from the heart of North Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, where poverty levels remain high.

Suku John, executive director of the East Park Revitalization Alliance, which cosponsored the event with the Philadelphia Orchard Project and the Naomi at Woodford, said the organic garden is a teaching tool for the neighborhood.

"Most of our kids, they'd never seen an apple on a tree," he said.

With supervision and help from a colony of bees, children from the nearby Mander Recreation Center have helped give life to the mansion's garden year-round.

In the spring and summer, they harvest rhubarb, asparagus, and berries. When summer ends, they help collect peaches, pears, and - of course - apples.

Visitors on Saturday sampled heirloom apples from an Adams County farm, with names like Jonagold, Opalescent, McIntosh, and York Imperial.

Iniya Saunders-Thompson, 9, a student at nearby EW Rhodes Elementary, said Jonagold won her taste test.

"It was sweet, and I believe that's what my mom buys."

The 18th-century mansion once held status as one of a string of country summer homes built for wealthy Philadelphians.

Constructed by patriot William Coleman, who served as a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, it also was home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. For a time, it housed a British Loyalist until Benedict Arnold had him arrested for treason.

Woodford later was a summer getaway for the famed Wharton family until after the Civil War.

Today, the two-story mansion stands as one of six historic "Charms" houses within the park. On most days, its visitors are history buffs and passersby along Boxer's Trail who come to tour the house with its collection of period furnishings.

Kim Jordan, treasurer with the Philadelphia Orchard Project, said the apple festival and its variety of activities reaches people a few blocks away who might never have otherwise visited.

"The orchard has really helped bring people in," she said. "Everyone's doing what interests them."

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@dylancpurcell