The Watchmen: A Brief History of Reading’s Police Force from the Museum Collection

 

 

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The photos shown here depict artifacts in our collection that belonged to and were used by the Reading Police Department prior to 1967. Most of these artifacts, with the exception of the black and white photo, were donated to the Berks History Center in 1967 by Vincent H. Ahrensfield, a former police officer here in Reading. Found in the attic during our inventory, these objects help tell the story of the forces that have helped keep Reading safe for over a hundred and fifty years.

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Since its inception in 1748, Reading has always had some sort of police protection to keep order and to protect its citizens. However, it was not until the end of the Civil War in 1865 that Reading established its first uniformed department, seen in the black and white photo here. Prior to this, police were known as “Watchmen,” or if they took on the added duty of maintaining the oil lamps in the streets at night, they were called “Night Watchmen.” After Mayor Nathan Eisenhower established the new department in 1865, succeeding mayors found it necessary to increase the force as the city’s population grew larger. Once mayor terms began to get longer in the late nineteenth century, the police force changed less frequency and become more effective.

 

When Vincent Ahrensfield arrived on the force, he had just finished fighting in World War II as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps. According to the Reading Directory, Ahrensfield began his time as an officer in 1951. Towards the end of his time at the Reading Police Department, Ahrensfield donated the coat and police supplies to the Berks County Historical Society. The objects here include: a cap marked “Chief of Police,” a gun holster, brass knuckles, keys, a Reading Police badge, a nightstick, a bow tie, a neck tie, a billyclub, a belt with a gun holster, and a winter cap. The coat is marked “Reading Police PA” and has a rank patch on the sleeve while the buttons are marked “Reading Police” as well. Currently, we know that Ahrensfield donated the collection, but we do not which of these items he used while working with the Reading Police. During his time with the force, Ahrensfield would have handled artifacts such as these in order to keep the City of Reading safe.

Researched and written by Erin Benz

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