On January 24, 1939, my 3-year-old mother, Wanda Polite, was bitten by the family dog. Earlier in the day, an Exton Dairy Grille customer was nipped on the hand by the same dog. Her father, Larry Polite, suspected something was wrong with the dog and, according to my mother, he killed the dog, severed its head, and drove it to Harrisburg for rabies testing. This was, and remains today, the only way to test an animal for rabies.
A few days later, results showed the dog did indeed have rabies and an alert
from the Pennsylvania state police went out to the press in the area in search of the man bitten. According to reports at the time, effective treatment must occur within 10 days of a bite. A race against the clock ensued to find the traveler identified only as a likely New Jersey resident — based on Polite’s recollection of the man’s Oldsmobile license plate.
Articles appeared in newspapers in the region starting on January 26, 1939, and were seen as far west as South Dakota and as far south as South Carolina based on searches of newspaper archives on Newspapers.com.
The most dramatic headline appeared in the Reading Eagle: State Police Seek Rabid Dog Victim: Race Against Time ot [sic] Save Man From Death.
West Whiteland Township commissioned Chester County artist Jeff Schaller to create artwork to be hung in the township building commemorating The Guernsey Cow. Funds for the work were originally donated to the township by Gladys and Larry Polite in 1985 for the purpose of restoring the The Cow sign.
Using a combination of graphics from an old postcard, letterhead, a Guernsey Cow ice cream lid, and original paining of a Guernsey cow, Schaller has captured some of the memories of Chester County old-timers. A limited run of 100 prints were created and are available through his Etsy shop.
He also memorialized The Cow in one of the panels he created in the Exton Mall a few years back for The Main Line Health Center on the first floor.
My cousin , Kim Puliti, sent me this photo from August of 1968 a while back. Am assuming that’s him and his brother Kerry trapped in the ice cream room window with the empty 5-gallon bulk ice cream containers on a hot August day.
Join friends, family, and former employees at the Exton branch of the Chester County Library on Thursday, July 19, 2012, from 4 to 6PM to celebrate the library’s mural dedicated to The Cow:
A celebration at the Library to recognize Exton’s past history. For years the Polite family ran a local ice creamery and restaurant in Exton that was known as the “ Guernsey Cow”. We now have a mural in the library dedicated to the “cow”. Come out to see the beautiful mural and help us celebrate with ice cream and activities as we remember a part of Exton history.
Over the past year there’s been a lot of interest in The Guernsey Cow locally and on the web.
Last summer we helped some folks from West Whiteland Township Historical Commission with piecing together and cataloging the remnants of The Cow sign they have stored in a local barn.
Over the past many months, the Chester County Library main branch in Exton has been undergoing interior renovations. One result of their work is the newly installed wall seen below that memorializes The Guernsey Cow and its place in Exton history. Copy was provided by my brother, Brian at McGlinchey Communications.
Most of the images come from the various bins of material that my grandmother kept over the years. She and my grandfather would be very pleased to see and know that The Guernsey Cow remains in the hearts of many and that lots of new people will be introduced to something they and many others put their hearts and lives into for so many years.
Stop by the library in Exton, get some books and look for The Cow!
Both the beauty and sometimes agony of going through my grandmother’s collection of things she’s saved over the years is that I often find nuggets of gold among things that I wonder why she saved. I know they all meant something to her and she had her reasons for saving either to look at later or to share with me and the rest of the family.
I found the negative for this photo with a few other negatives in a pile of Christmas photos from the 1970s. This is an aerial photo of The Guernsey Cow and Sleepy Hollow Hall (aka The Massey House) shot from the South side of the Lincoln Highway (Rte 30). I’m guessing that it’s late 1940s. Perhaps someone with a keener eye for cars can pinpoint it better.
If you click on the photo you can see a larger version and see the shadow of The Cow billboard at the bottom as it appeared at the time.
Note that The Cow billboard was built once World War II ended, so this could have been shot soon after The Cow was put in place. Also note the position of the sign. This was taken before the highway was widened and The Cow sign had to be moved. See the difference in position based on this photo from 1974.
For other aerial shots of Exton and The Cow see my previous post.
In the mid to late 1930s, when The Guernsey Cow was still known as The Exton Dairy Grill, Larry Polite was already making a name for himself and his place with both his ice cream and his famous cream caramels. Of all the materials both my grandparents saved from The Cow the largest gap consists of the recipes for ice cream and caramels.
Cooked up in huge copper kettles, the caramels became truly world famous as tourists stopped, heading East or West along the Lincoln Highway, before turnpikes and bypasses. When they couldn’t bring ice cream home to places like Michigan, California and beyond, customers brought tubs of the caramels with them. Letters soon followed requesting delivery of caramels from all over. Flavors were chocolate, vanilla and black walnut which seemed to be a the most popular request in the letters we have.
This was an early card that was handed out to customers encouraging long distance orders of caramels and candy. Note the proprietors’ names, “Polite & John”. This was early on when my grandfather had partnered with Jimmy John who later went on to make a name for himself in the hot dog and sandwich business south of West Chester. The reverse side of the card reveals a typical request:
In September of 1935, Polite had sent caramels to Frank B. Foster’s assistant, Sara Osborne, in Philadelphia. Osborne had been very helpful in the transactions that led to Polite purchasing the business from Foster and she stayed in close contact through the years. My grandfather routinely sent gifts and was also probably, in this case, showing off his new caramel product. Her letter began, “Your caramels are very good, and I presume you are now making these yourself. In fact they are bout the best I ever tasted.”
She then went on to suggest he improve his packaging since they “were received in rather bad condition…” and went on to say, “your paper was too thin and the string too light to carry them.” No doubt this led to the need to proper containers that would travel well and could be shipped as well.
Later, the caramels were sold in waxed cardboard tubs with a die-cut cow head in the top to give it a fun way to dispense the candies. The cow head was an easy reach for small hands but not too small for adult hands either.
In a May 3, 1951 article in The Archive (of Downingtown, PA) celebrating Larry’s 20th year in business, the writer detailed some of the challenges in caramel making:
Two days a week is caramel making day. Recently when he was having trouble getting the candy to the right consistency for wrapping — it was either too soft or too hard — he hit on the ide of plugging in his wife’s hair dryer. Now the caramels can be softened or hardened to the proper degree by pushing the hot or cool air button.
This photo and the other of my grandfather were most likely taken by avid photographer, Jimmy John.