Col. John E. Arthur, who died some years ago, is regarded as one of the outstanding citizens of Reading in his generation for his honesty and conscientious endeavor. There is no public record to equal him in this respect. The writer knew him well and can testify to the details herewith given.
Colonel was of Scotch-Irish descent and his father, John Arthur, was at one time a school teacher in Chester County.
Colonel Arthur was born in 1826 in Muncy Creek Township, Lycoming County. He came to Reading when 19 and learned blacksmithing in the Reading Railway shops here. He enlisted in Capt. Thomas Loesers’s company in the war with Mexico and served 1 1/2 years. He was wounded in action and spent six months in the a hospital in that country. Upon his return he became foreman of the Reading Company’s blacksmith shop.
In 1861 he recruited Company B, 93rd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers. In about three years he returned as the result of wounds that almost proved fatal, and a grateful government granted him a pension for his heroism and patriotism. Now comes the most interesting period of his life.
In 1870 he was chosen city treasurer on the Democratic ticket. He was reelected six successive times and thus served in that office for a total of 14 years.
He could have continued to draw his pension as a sufferer from wounds in war service, as well as his salary as a city treasurer, but what did Colonel Arthur do?
Why he wrote to the authorities in Washington asking them to stop his pension, now that he had an income to support his household from another source.
Such action was unprecedented. Washington was surprised beyond measure. The officials were simply flabbergasted. They sent for J. Lawrence Getz, who was then the congressman from the Berks District.
“What kind of man is this Colonel Arthur?” he was asked, and was then told that in the entire history of the government but two men had previously requested that their pensions be stopped.
“Well,” said Mr. Getz, who knew Colonel Arthur as a sincere friend, “he is that kind of a man.” and the pension was cut off.
During Colonel Arthur’s term as city treasurer he kept the public money in different banks, as has been the custom always before and ever since. In the ’70’s several of the banks failed. These held $8,000 of the city’s cash. What would you have done? But what did Colonel Arthur do? He had lived a thrifty economical life and selling his Building Association shares and a few houses, he replaced the $8,00 in the city treasury and said nothing to anybody. Some years passed.
Then an ordinance was introduced raising the salaries of every city official, from top to bottom. Of course, this included Colonel Arthur.
Former Judge George W. Bruckman represented the Ninth Ward in Select Council and was chairman of the finance committee. In a speech to his fellow members he opposed every raise in salaries, save one- Colonel Arthur. He then divulged for the first time how Colonel Arthur had restored to the city $8,000 lost in the banks. Public opinion was quick to respond and that was restored to Colonel Arthur since “he was that kind of man”.
The city rang with the praises showered upon him because of his action.
And now the last chapter before the curtain falls.
Some years before his death Colonel Arthur was made the Democratic nominee for mayor.
The prediction was made that he would sweep the city.
But the public soon forgot its acclaim for “that kind of a man.”
Colonel Arthur was defeated.
Images: artist Leroy Gensler, Reading Times, March 8, 1946