AHRENS, HOWARD E., p. 1407
Surnames: AHRENS, GEARHARD, LEPPERT, MILLER, REBER, KOENIG, POTTEIGER, GRING, WUMMER, WANNER, GERHARD, RICKENBACH, LEINBACH, REIS, ALTHOUSE, HAWMAN, SNYDER
Among the native sons of Berks county, who have risen to prominence in connection with industrial affairs, and who stand exemplar of the best order of citizenship, is numbered Mr. Howard E. Ahrens, who is president of the Allentown & Reading Electric Railway Company, and who is also one of the representative contractors of this section of the State. Mr. Ahrens was born in Muhlenberg township, this county, May 13, 1853, son of Bennewell K. and Susanna (Gearhard) Ahrens, and grandson of Jacob Ahrens.
Heinrich Ahrens, the ancestor in America of the Ahrens family in question had a very interesting career. He was born about 1759, in Bremerhaven, Germany, of parents of good social standing in that city. When but twelve years of age he played truant from school for a week. A neighbor, seeing him about the streets of the town asked his father the next Sunday in Church, why the boy had not been attending school instead of roaming the streets. The father shaking his finger at Heinrich frightened him so, that, securing money from his mother, he left home, intending to return home in a few days when his father's anger would have subsided. He wandered down to the wharf, where he was noticed by the captain of a Dutch vessel, who was much impressed by his appearance. The Captain talked with Heinrich, and, taking a fancy to the boy, asked him to go with him to Holland, promising to return him to his parents in a short time. Heinrich sailed with him, but the good Captain died off the shores of Holland, and Heinrich was left alone in a strange land. As the lad was wondering about the shore another captain bound for America kidnapped him and forced him to go with him. Landing on the New England coast, probably at Boston, the boy was turned over to a rich man, who manifested a liking for him, but before letting him go, the captain cut all the bright buttons from his coat saying he wished to have them as a memento. He had been sold as a redemptioner to the rich man, who became so found of the boy he decided to educate him. At the time he was building a mill at his place, and noting the boys liking for his tools of the wheelwrights and his keen interest in everything the men did, he offered to let young Heinrich learn the trade. This he did and followed it for nine years in New England. At the end of that time he started for Pennsylvania on foot and walked all the way to Berks county. He was then twenty-two years. He followed his trade in Bern township for a time and there met Catherine Leppert, who afterward became his wife. He was considered an excellent mechanic. He erected many of the mills along the Tulpehocken and at Wernersville, as well as in different districts in the lower end of Berks county. He and his wife moved to Friedensburg, in Oley township, where she had relatives living, and there he build a home and passed away the rest of his life, dying at the age of eighty-one years. He was buried at the graveyard at Spies's Church. He and his wife had four children as follows: Henry, who was a millwright and carpenter by trade, owned and conducted a farm at the "Half Way House" in Maiden-creek township; Jacob is mentioned below; Hannah married Jacob Miller; John learned the carpenter and wheelwright's trade, commencing when but twelve years of age, and this he followed all his life. He served in the War of 1812 in the Berks county militia and in 1814 went with it to Baltimore. He married Christina Reber, and they had the following children: Louisa; Anna; Catherine; Maria and Henry. All were members of the Bern church.
Jacob Ahrens, son of Heinrich, was a successful carpenter and builder of Berks county, and devoted special attention to the building of bridges. After the memorable flood of 1850 he erected some of the best bridges in this section, including those at Kissingers, Leesport, Shoemakersville, Mohnsville and Hamburg. The maiden name of his wife was Barbara Koenig, and concerning his children we have the following data: William married Miss Kate Potteiger; Jacob died when a young man; Henry married Rebecca Gring and they reside at No. 913 Franklin street, Reading; Rebecca became the wife of George F. Wummer, and both are deceased; Sarah, deceased, was the wife of Jacob Potteiger; Johanna, the wife of Reuben Wanner, is deceased; Adeline is the wife of Tiras Gerhard; Caroline is the wife of Levi Rickenbach; Bennewell K. was the father of Howard E. Bennewell K. Ahrens was reared to maturity in Berks county, and learned the blacksmith's and carpenter's trades, to which he devoted his attention throughout his active business career. He manufactured farming implements, and for some time was identified with agricultural pursuits. He died in 1870, at the age of forty-four years, and his wife is still living. She is a zealous member of the Lutheran Church, to which Mr. Ahrens also belonged. Of their five children the subject of this sketch is the eldest: James S. married Rosa Leinbach and is a resident of Reading; John married Mary Reis, and they reside in Reading; Clara was the wife of Solomon A. Althouse, of Reading, now deceased; Annie is the wife of William Gearhard, of Reading.
Howard E Ahrens is indebted to the public schools of Muhlenberg township and the city of Reading for his early educational training, but he soon assumed practical responsibilities in connection with his school work. At the age of thirteen years he secured employment as tool and water boy for Harry Hawman, contractor and builder at the Reading round house, and later he became clerk in a hotel which his father was conducting in Reading. Finally he initiated his independent business career by engaging in the coal and feed business in Reading, later becoming operator of a stone quarry. In 1884 he engaged in general contracting and building putting up nineteen buildings, and thereafter giving his attention more largely to other lines of contract work. His initial contract in the installation of water works was in Kutztown, Pa., and afterward he had similar contracts at Hamburg, Mifflin, Bridgeport, Patterson, Steelton, Newville, Newport, West Conshohocken, Northumberland, Reedsville, Pa., Delaware City and Harrington, Del., Pleasantville, N. J., as well as the electric light and water plants at Newcastle Del. The firm of H. E. Ahrnes & Brother, in which he associated with himself and his brother, James S. Ahrens, has constructed a number of trolley lines in eastern Pennsylvania -- notably the lines from Reading to Allentown -- and also the interurban line in Texas. They have had contracts with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company for grading masonry and stations and passenger tunnels all over the state of Pennsylvania. Mr. Ahrens still maintains his contracting business which has become one of wide scope. The firm name is now H. E. Ahrens Company, and his partner is a son instead of his brother, as formerly. He has been identified with the Allentown & Reading Traction Company almost from the time of its organization, and was formerly its treasurer, having retained this office until March 1, 1903, when he was elected president of the company, which position he has since continually been incumbent.
Mr. Ahrens is distinctively the artificer of his own fortune, having worked forward from small beginnings and having turned the tide of success through his own well directed efforts. His reputation as a business man and as a citizen is unassailable, and his standing in the community is indicated by the unqualified esteem and confidence accorded him by the people of his native county. He is essentially public spirited in his attitude and all that touches the well being of his home city is a matter of definite interest to him. In politics he pays attention to the Republican party, and he has attained to the thirty-second degree in Scottish Rite Masonry. He is pastmaster of Chandler lodge, Free & Accepted Masons of Reading; a past high priest, Excelsior Chapter, Royal Knights Templar; and the Harrisburg Consistory of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Masons at Harrisburg. He is also identified with Rajah Temple, Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine at Reading and takes a deep interest in all departments of the time honored fraternity, in which he has gained such exalted rank. He has been a member of the Patriotic Order Sons of America since 1870. He and his wife hold memberships in the Lutheran and Reformed Churches respectively.
In 1878, Mr. Ahrens was united in marriage to Miss Hannah Snyder, daughter of the late William H. Snyder, of Reading, who served for many years as justice of the peace and who was an honored and influential citizen. Mr. and Mrs. Ahrens have six children, namely: Gertrude, William, Elizabeth, Hannah, Helen, and Eva.
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