Apple picking time at Hopewell Furnace

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, about 15 miles east of Reading, was one of the country’s first iron producers, casting cannons for the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War and once responsible for 15 percent of the entire world’s iron supply. Gen. George Washington’s troops came within three miles of the furnace, and its workers rushed to bury several “great guns” on the property to save them from possible capture by the Redcoats.

Today, Hopewell Furnace is a preserved iron plantation run by the National Park Service and a very worthy stop on anyone’s Pennsylvania history tour. Besides the blast furnace, there’s a restored blacksmith’s shop, a company store, the ironmaster’s house, and several workers’ cottages — all nestled in a peaceful forested valley.

This month is my favorite time of year to visit. The property includes a four-acre apple orchard and the Park Service lets visitors pick as much as they want for $1 a pound (buckets and pole pickers provided). Though the original apple trees from the 1780s are gone, there are 35 different varieties, many with historical roots, including Spitzenburg’s, which may have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite and Smokehouse, a variety traced to 1837 when it was grown next to a smokehouse in Lancaster County. By mid-October the fruit is gone, so get here soon. Hopewell Furnace is within French Creek State Park and links up with several trails within the park.

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