PAF Lends a Helping Hand at Woodford Orchard Planting
By Doug Mooney
PAF member Doug Mooney searching for artifacts as a volunteer prepares a tree excavation. More pictures below article.
On a cold and rainy morning this past Saturday (November 8) members of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum provided some out-of-the-ordinary assistance during an orchard planting ceremony at the Woodford Mansion historic site, located in Fairmount Park. This assistance was provided by members Rebecca Yamin and Doug Mooney and took the form of archaeological monitoring as a small army of volunteers dug holes for a series of fruit trees and berry bushes in a specially prepared garden adjacent to the 250-year old manor house.
The orchard project was a collaboration between the East Park Revitalization Alliance, Philadelphia Orchard Project, Naomi Wood Trust at Woodford, and the Fairmount Park Commission, and was intended to help invigorate community involvement with and use of the site. As the trees and bushes mature and bear fruit the orchard will be tended by children from the nearby Mander Recreation Center.
The Georgian-style Woodford Mansion was originally built by William Coleman, between 1756-1758, as a summer retreat overlooking the Schuylkill River. Coleman was a successful merchant in Philadelphia and a member of Benjamin Franklin's famed junta. The original property encompassed a total of 12 acres and did contain an expansive orchard, though the exact location of the historic orchard is now unknown. During Coleman's time, Woodford was also the summer home of George Clymer, Coleman's adopted nephew and a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Woodford became part of Fairmount Park in 1868, and in 1927 was leased by the Naomi Wood Trust as a setting for displaying Ms. Wood's extensive collection of "colonial household gear". The mansion has been managed by the Trust and open to the public since that time. Among the numerous period furnishings on display in the restored house is an amazing assemblage of Delft / tin-enameled ware that should not be missed by anyone interested in the city's historical archaeology.
The PAF was invited to take part in the orchard planting by Site Manager Martha Moffat, out of concerns that important artifact deposits associated with the house might be disturbed by digging. Excavation for the trees and shrubs was carried out by student volunteers from the University of Pennsylvania, while PAF members Yamin and Mooney troweled through the soil in search of artifacts. In the end, the tree excavations produced very little in the way of historic artifacts, and turned up only a handful of brickbats and small sherds of whiteware, redware, and export porcelain. Exposed soil profiles showed that much of the orchard space had been extensively filled in at some point in the past, with only a few holes encountering relatively intact soils. All artifacts found in the orchard were collected by the Naomi Wood Trust and will be permanently curated on site.
Once the planting was concluded, children attending the event were invited to take part in making homemade apple cider (delicious) while members of the Naomi Wood Trust provided volunteers and other participants with tours of the house.
Despite the uncooperative weather the tree planting was a great success and both Becky and I had a lot of fun. We and the PAF extend our thanks to Martha Moffat, the representatives of the Naomi Wood Trust, and the Fairmount Park Guides for providing us with this opportunity, and we wish you the best of luck with your orchard.
- For more information about the orchard planting see the following story in the Philadelphia Inquirer (philly.com/philly/news/local/34189859.html).
- For more on the history of Woodford and the various activities hosted there visit woodfordmansion.org
Curious children examining one of the artifacts recovered from the orchard excavations.
PAF member Rebecca Yamin conversing with volunteers during the orchard planting.