Making & Selling Famous Cream Caramels

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:

"June 17, 1935 - My wife just found this card in an old purse. Last summer we stopped at your place and found the best caramels we ever tasted. If you still make them please send me a dollar's worth. - Harold C. Brooks - Marshall, Mich."

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.

Larry Polite behind the scale and register with caramels on display along with Exton Dairy Grill Coffee

This photo and the other of my grandfather were most likely taken by avid photographer, Jimmy John.

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Somewhere Out There

This past weekend, The Daily Local News published an article about an ad hoc committee formed in West Whiteland Township to discuss what to do with the remnants of the The Guernsey Cow sign that was dismantled in 1985 and how best to remember The Cow (I am a member of the committee). Part of that committee’s efforts is attempting to find the head of the Cow that was stolen in the middle of the night Tuesday, July 23, 1985.

As mentioned a few years ago here, the bovine billboard that stood watch over the Exton, PA crossroads for 40 years was being removed in the summer of 1985 since The Guernsey Cow business had closed and the sign was starting to rot and fade. On Wednesday, July 17, 1985, The Daily Local News published an article (written by Michael Rellahan, the same author of Sunday’s article) about the signs impending removal.

In a quote from the article about the Cow coming down, my grandfather said, “It would be a conversation piece, though, if somebody wanted to pull it up. If you want a cow to put on your front lawn, it’s yours.” Within a week, someone took his offer litterally. At some point between dusk July 23, 1985 and dawn July 24, 1985, the head of the cow was stolen.

As the billboard was two-sided, there were actually two heads stolen that evening consisting of light but floppy and unwieldy large panels of sheet metal. As the article mentions, it’s suspected that the team was able to accomplish the mission in the wee hours when traffic was light.

Almost 30 years later, personally, the story of the theft, more than vengeance or the pursuit of justice, is what drives my desire to track down the heads and the current owner(s). I’d love to hear the story behind the scenes. Were these teenagers that, on a spur-of-the-moment challenge, dared each other to a daring middle-of-the-night raid? Were these West Chester State College kids stuck in town for the summer in need of fraternity house decorations? I’d also love to see the head and where it rests, whether in a local field, overgrown with weeds, or in some former teenager’s — now middle-ager’s — basement.

Later in 1985, my grandfather donated the remaining portions of the billboard to West Whiteland Township since they had expressed such interest in preserving it and using it in a public space.  Since then, the billboard, minus its head, has sat in storage, in pieces, paint flaking while the township has occasionally talked of what to do with it but never gotten far beyond the talk.

Now they’re talking again. It would be nice to see something done for real that would be some sort of testament to what The Cow meant to the community all those decades, whether it’s small or as larges as a 35-foot-tall Guernsey Cow. It would be nice to do that with at least one of the heads or the story behind their disappearance.

If you know someone or heard about a guy who knows a guy who knows who took the sign, help us connect the dots. The statute of limitations is up on this incident so it’s more for the story now than anything else. Let’s solve this cold case! Email me at busboy at theguernseycow.com — your information will be treated with the utmost confidence!

Famous Cream Caramels

This image is in the archives at The Chester County Historical Society in West Chester. It’s the only one they have related to The Guernsey Cow in their archives.

[They have a nice service there where you can pay them to research a topic or multiple topics and determine what information and photos they have on record. Or you can go in yourself and dig around in the library reading room. Someday I’ll spend afternoons there mining their collection for various historical tidbits.]

The Guernsey Cow was famous for its ice cream and for its hand-made cream caramels. The caramels were cooked up in huge copper kettles with big wooden paddles. The caramels were wrapped in branded wax paper and then stuffed into the tubs like those shown. The lid had a die-cut guernsey cow head in it that popped out and made a nice way of pulling caramels out as you needed.

“Famous Cream Caramels from the World’s Largest Guernsey Cow” is the slogan on the side of the tub and as referenced in a previous post they were also famous among the famous. For the long-distance traveler they were the perfect take-home product when you couldn’t take the ice cream with you.

The World’s Largest Cow Makes Room for The Lincoln Highway

The World's Largest Cow Makes Room for Highway Expansion

1972: The Cow Sign Moves Back

In 1972, The Lincoln Highway (Route 30) in Exton, PA was being widened and The Guernsey Cow signs needed to be moved back from the road to make room.

As described previously, when the billboard was originally erected right after the end of World War II, the highway department visited Larry Polite and informed him that, although it was a nice big cow, it needed to be moved back from the edge of the road because the cow’s head hung over the highway.

In 1968 the northern side of the highway was widened. The smaller sign shown in the post below (from 1941) would have needed to be moved or removed for that widening.

The sign above reads: “It’s The Greatest Ice Cream In The World” and it’s written over a musical staff with notes.

The Ice Cream Song

Anyone know the jingle or can play it for me?

Looks like: A F F F  F A F   F F F F    A F G F    F F G A C

The Guernsey Cow sign rises into the air

1972: The Guernsey Cow sign rises into the air

The Cow Signs Start To Settle In

1972: The Cow Signs Start To Settle In

The World’s Largest Guernsey Cow

The Guernsey Cow Sign in Exton PA

The Guernsey Cow Sign in Exton PA

I’ve been meaning for a long time to post a photo of the actual Guernsey Cow sign since, for many (or most), it is what defined The Guernsey Cow. I actually have very few photos of the famous sign.

While it was still known as The Exton Dairy Grille, in 1927, Frank B. Foster, the owner of the dairy business that my grandfather, Ilario Polite leased, had a large cow billboard across the street. Soon after, though, a real estate man convinced Mr. Foster to sell the land on that side of the road. As a result of the sale, they needed to take the sign down.

“My gosh, that broke my heart to see that big cow sign come down,” Polite said. “But I said, ‘Some day, some how, I’m going to put that cow back up.'”

1941 Exton Dairy Grille Calendar Card

1941 Exton Dairy Grille Calendar Card

On this 1941 Exton Dairy Grille wallet calendar made by Whitehead & Hoag it reads: “At the Sign of the Guernsey Cow.” There was a smaller billboard of a cow by the entrance of the Dairy Grille parking lot in the intervening years.

Later, in the 1940s, Polite changed the name from The Exton Dairy Grille to The Guernsey Cow. In 1983 he told a story about repeat customers that came from far away that would always tell him on their visit: “I don’t know why you call this place the Dairy Grille — when we come here, we say ‘We’re going to see The Cow.’ You ought to call it that.” And so he did.

In the 1940s, Polite was able to purchase the land across the street where the sign once stood. On the day World War II ended, he called Pottstown sign-maker, Harry Reed, about constructing a billboard of a giant cow on that land. While he had owned the land for some years, due to war-time rationing of steel and other materials he had been forced to hold off on building The Cow anew.

The next day he and Mr. Reed went to Philadelphia to buy steel for the sign. Later they took a little picture or drawing of a Guernsey cow and projected it on the wall of of Harry Reed’s house to determine how large to build the sign. Mr. Reed completed the entire project on his own: dug the holes for the footers, built the sign and painted it all for $600 in 1945. As my grandfather recalled in 2005: “Harry was a good man.”

The sign itself was about 35 feet tall and 48 feet long and actually consisted of 2 giant cows in a wedge form to give it depth and the best visibility when traveling from both the East and West on the Lincoln Highway.

Sometime after the billboard construction, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways (later PennDOT) demanded that the Cow billboard be moved back from the road because the head of the cow stuck out above highway property.

A company from Lansdale was brought in to discuss moving the Cow sign and the owner and some engineers came to Exton and “stood around and did a lot of talking.” They proposed dismantling the sign,  then re-assembling it further back from the road and repainting it.

Polite didn’t like the engineers’ idea. He wanted to bring a crane in to lift it off its three supports and move it back from the road. They wanted $2500, but ever the haggler, he got them down to $1500.

Today where the sign once stood, a regular billboard stands advertising health insurance, I think. What’s left of the cow lies in pieces (and headless — the head stolen in 1985 before the sign was dismantled) in a West Whiteland township barn. I am hoping to visit it and get some photos soon.

The article and photo below appeared in The Daily Local News March 16, 1996.

The Guernsey Cow sign in pieces in 1996

The Guernsey Cow sign in pieces in 1996

In a letter to the Editor in the newspaper a few weeks later, Emily J. Kirsch, then Director of Public Relations at Immaculata College (now Immaculata University) wrote:

“The Cow,” as it was affectionately dubbed by the students, served as one of the few off-campus attractions in the less-sophisticated ’40s and ’50s, a respite after a long week of classes and research papers, a place to relax, luxuriate, and enjoy a dish of incredible ice cream. Piling into a car for a drive to “The Cow” became, over the years, a veritable tradition for Immaculata students until its closing in 1985. 

The Guernsey Cow sign, at one time, was Exton [emphasis Ms. Kirsch’s]. It is truly a piece of Americana that should not be left to rest in a barn…

If you have photos of The Cow you’d like to share, you can email them to me at busboy@TheGuernseyCow.com@ .

Profile: Willie Minor

Willie Minor and his bicycle

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 at Work

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.

Willie and Larry PoliteLarry 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

What’s Good To Eat?

 

cow_menu_crdbrd.jpg
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.