The most loved member of The Guernsey Cow community was, and still is, Willie Minor. “Our Willie” is remembered for his bicycle outfitted with horns, lights, fenders, racks, flags, and baskets heavily laden with old newspapers and many spools of string pieces knotted together with such precision that there were no ends sticking out. Even now, Willie continues this pastime where he lives in a loving home near Coatesville. The local postman provides the string for Willie.
Willie lived at The Guernsey Cow restaurant where he was employed from the early 1940s until 1994. Willie could have been dubbed Exton Ambassador for all the smiles he brought to everyone who knew him as he helped Larry and Pep make ice cream and cream caramels, washed dishes, and mowed the lawns that surrounded the restaurant and the Polite home, Sleepy Hollow Hall.
When he was not working he frequented locations that are just memories for Exton long-timers. Willie welcomed and conversed with folks at the Exton Drive-In Theater, a gas station on Route 100, the Downingtown Farmers Market, and Felix’s Farm Market.
Larry and Willie had a remarkable relationship. They enjoyed many hours in Larry’s truck running errands and working in their vegetable garden. Mrs. Polite liked to call it “Larry’s garden,” but family members knew it was primarily Willie’s back-breaking effort and so called it “Willie’s garden”. At harvest time, they would deliver tomatoes, string beans, and sweet corn to friends in the area. Willie became a sounding board for Larry who confided in him during the many hours they shared.
Contributed by Wanda Polite McGlinchey
Black & White photos provided by Kim Puliti
This is the outside cover of a menu I picked up on eBay a few years ago. I’ll follow up this week with the inside to see what’s cooking and at what prices.
Here’s the text on the back of the menu that provides some history.
Permit us to welcome you to the Guernsey Cow, whether you be a neighbor from a nearby town or city, or a guest from Maine, Florida or California. Call again, and again.
No matter where you travel, you will never find milk with a better flavor or more healthful content than that served here, from tested Guernsey Cows.
The residence on the property, to the right, is one of the oldest in this vicinity. The back part of the house was apparently built in 1685 by people who moved into this valley, following the lines of migration north from Chester no the Delaware River, the oldest settlement in Pennsylvania. About 1740 an addition was built to the original small house by a George Massey. Mr. Massey was a great friend of George Washington, and he, Mr. Washington, was a frequent visitor and guest of Mr. Massey. This information was given to us by the Historical Society of Chester County. In 1820 the front part of the house was constructed. This contains excellent examples of mantles of that period.
Well-marked roads to Valley Forge, the great shrine of American patriotism, branch to the left of Lancaster Pike as you go to Philadelphia. Near Paoli is the site of the Paoli Massacre, where the British troops surprised Mad Anthony Wayne, whose birthplace and grave are just beyond, near Devon.
Visitors from a distance will find a rather interesting trip by taking the road to West Chester, and going on to Brandywine Creek, where one of the early battles of the Revolutionary War was fought.
Visit the Guernsey Cow as often as you can. Tell your friends. Come out any time. Bring the children. They will enjoy watching the live Pheasants on the lawn.
FREE — Take this copy with you as a Souvenir of your visit to the Guernsey Cow, Exton, Pa.
My grandfather works on his signage while my mother looks on. The makeshift produce table is set up on the lawn alongside Sleepy Hollow Hall on the west side of The Guernsey Cow parking lot. This was taken probably around 1940.
Note: Years later — make that decades later — my siblings and I were hired by my grandfather to pick up rocks and gravel in that yard, filling many 5-gallon buckets. I don’t recall how much we earned; it was probably more than the 25 cents he was getting for a dozen ears back in 1940. But not much more.
If you have photos of life around The Guernsey Cow, email them in to us at busboy@TheGuernseyCow.com.
I spoke with my grandmother recently about celebrity sightings at The Cow. She remembers the celebrities but wishes my grandfather was here to answer as well. He remembered every politician that visited.
Kitty Carlisle of What’s My Line fame and husband Moss Hart visited once, probably in the 1950’s. Mr. Hart owned a farm in Bucks County until 1954. He and Ms. Carlisle met as actors at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope.
Claude Rains, famous for his roles in The Invisible Man, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Casablanca, was a West Chester resident at Chuch & Dean Streets in the 1940s and 1950s and owned a farm in West Bradford township. My grandmother never saw him come into The Cow: “He always sat in the car while his wife came in to pick up caramel containers.”
Doris Day came in The Cow one day in the early 1960s. She was there with her husband Martin Melcher and another couple. She wore sunglasses. My grandmother recognized her and asked the men, “Is that Doris Day?” Melcher said, “No.” The other man said, “Yes, that is Doris Day.”
While the men used the restroom, several of the waitresses started recognizing Ms. Day. My grandmother spoke to her and said, “Doris, take off your glasses so the girls can see you.” Ms. Day complied to the delight of the staff.
My grandmother remarked, “She was very sweet and nice but I guess that could have just been acting.”
Ms. Day had caramels shipped back to her home in California.
Aunt Saundra reports:
In 1965, when I was travelling cross country, I saw a great opportunity to meet a celeb and took two buckets of caramels with me to deliver directly to her (Doris Day). When I hit LA, with her address, I searched for hours to find her home to no avail.We ate the caramels and missed our date with destiny.
Kitty Carlisle & Ross Hart via NYMag
Doris Day, Martin Melcher via DorisDay.net
If you recall other celebrities — Hollywood or otherwise — leave a comment on this post.
From time to time we’ll post photos of Guernsey Cow memorabilia. And from time to time we’ll post a link to memorabilia currently for sale on eBay by various collectors and antiquers out there. See the postcard below being sold by someone in Shrewsbury, PA. I’ve bought several of these over the years on eBay. Click the image to see the eBay listing.
My mother, Wanda Polite, #1 daughter of Ilario and Gladys, reports her own ‘world famous’ tale.
Once upon a time during the summer of 1957 two friends and I were staying in an elegant hotel on a Switzerland mountaintop. (Audrey Hepburn, her husband Mel Ferrer, Sophia Loren and her future husband Carlo Ponti were also staying there.) A gentleman approached us and asked for our home towns. All summer long while touring Europe we would reply to that question, “Philadelphia” or “Pennsylvania”, rather than Cathy saying “Upper Darby”, Barbara saying “Shenandoah” or my saying “Exton.”
But this gentleman would not settle for anything but an exact answer. When he heard the word “Exton”, he said that they drive out there for ice cream at The Guernsey Cow. The man was Mr. Biddle of the highly regarded Bailey, Banks, and Biddle jewelers in Philadelphia.
Growing up I would see the word “famous” on the all the Guernsey Cow packaging. I’m assuming I believed it. By the time I was a doubting teenager I knew it was true.
My aunt Saundra Polite Schier — Gladys & Larry Polite’s #2 daughter — sent me a couple of stories about The Guernsey Cow’s “reach” in this world.
In 1960, just out of college, she was swimming in the Adriatic Sea along the coast of Italy near where her father was born and raised before coming to America as a young teen.
“…my American accent was overheard by an apparent native Italian. Since he was mighty attractive, I engaged in a conversation leading to the inevitable….where in the States did I live? When I said near Philadelphia (who ever heard of Exton back then?), I was pressed to be more specific.”
When she replied “Exton”, the Italian asked, “We go to Exton every Sunday for ice cream, do you know the Guernsey Cow?”
It turned out he was a first generation Italian Upper Darby resident who spent every summer in his second home in Abruzzi (now Abrruzzo).
This kind of coincidence was known by my grandmother as “Murray’s Law”. My grandmother kept a clipping of a column written by a Philadelphia Inquirer or Bulletin columnist by the last name of Murray. His law, as he described in this column, was that no matter where you are in the world, you will always be sitting next to or near someone that will know someone who knows you or someone from where you live. This was a decade or two before the whole Six Degrees of Separation concept became popular — but our grandmother, Gladys, was always hitting on that anytime a story like Saundra’s came up.
[I did some quick searching for Murray and his law but could find nothing on the web … guess his wisdom didn’t make the leap to info-space.]
In the early 1970’s before any of my siblings and I were ready to start working at the Cow we had the pleasure of dining there every Tuesday night with our grandparents. My recollection is that this was a summertime tradition.
One of the benefits of being grandchildren of the proprietors was that we were allowed to order or help prepare whatever concoction we wished for dessert. Our best efforts were put into pulling together the greatest variety of flavors and toppings. Once we wolfed that down, we usually ended up playing tag until nightfall out on the expansive property of the Cow and the adjacent Sleepy Hollow Hall where our mother grew up.
Occasionally, the combination of the limitless ice cream bar and running around on a summer evening led to more than a few upset stomachs. However bad it got, by the next Tuesday the competition was on again for packing flavor in.
Stop by the Flavors page to recall and post your favorite Guernsey Cow ice cream flavors.
[I remember my usual standby as: chocolate + vanilla fudge + mint chocolate chip + chocolate chip + hot fudge + chocolate sauce + salted peanuts + pretzel sticks + whipped cream (no cherry)]