From the Chester County Parks & Recreation page and hosted by the West Whiteland Historic Commission (edits are mine):
“Tour three of West Whiteland’s most prominent historical structures located on Lincoln Highway at the intersection of Pottstown Pike, the crossroads of Chester County. The resources, all located at the perimeter of the Exton Square Mall and in close proximity to one another, include the well-known Zook House (c 1754), The Guernsey Cow Dairy Barn (now DNBFirst Downingtown National Bank, c 1930), and Sleepy Hollow Hall (aka the Massey House, 1717). Each property illustrates how effective adaptive reuse can both preserve and perpetuate historic structures in the face of significant development. Following the tour, you will be treated to light refreshments and locally crafted ice cream in honor of The Guernsey Cow’s legacy.”
I’ll be on-hand to eat ice cream and help out with The Guernsey Cow and Sleepy Hollow Hall sides of things.
Call 610-363-9525 for further information and registration.
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.'”
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.
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…
This late 1950’s postcard of The Guernsey Cow is open for bids on eBay right now. The cars really give the postcard it’s ‘classic’ feel along with the 50 gallon drum trash can and oil stains in the parking spots.
[Update June 13: The final selling price for this postcard was $47.99! That’s the first time I’ve seen one of these go that high. Usually they end up less than $12.]
from L to R: Gladys Polite, Millie “Dolly” Polite (Ilario’s sister), Elmer Polite (Ilario’s brother), Ilario “Larry” Polite
A few posts (and months) back I mentioned an upcoming visit with my grandmother, Gladys Polite. On that visit we spent several hours going over the photos, documents, menus and material she still had from her various collections over the years. I don’t know where she’s kept it all.
This photo is one that I don’t ever recall seeing before. It is The Guernsey Cow The Exton Dairy Grille, around 1931, before it was The Cow.
Before my grandfather, Ilario Polite, owned the business, it was known as Montcalm Farms. He worked there in 1927 busing tables, washing dishes, whatever was needed. At that time, around 1927, it was known as Montcalm Farms.
The following excerpt is from the “Statement of Significance” prepared by Estelle Cremers, Historical Land Research, when there was an effort to get The Guernsey Cow placed on the National Register of Historic Places:
…begun in 1927 by Fank B. Foster, president of the Congoleum Company in Philadelphia and a resident farmer in neighboring Charlestown Township, Chester County. Foster needed a retail outlet for milk from his several Guernsey dairy farms when summer quotas were instituted by Harbison Dairies, a bottling company in Philadelphia to whom many local farmers sold their product in bulk. To process his overflow. Mr. Foster set up a raw milk bottling operation in a small frame building on the farm he owned at Exton crossroads. Under his name of Montcalm Farms, it was essentially a retail outlet for his own bottled milk, but quickly branched into the sale of eggs and other farm products. Featured was made-on-the-spot ice cream, and cream caramels prepared by a German storekeeper nearby.
Later when my grandfather took on the business around 1931 it was known as the Exton Dairy Grille. Later, it became famous as The Guernsey Cow.
There’s plenty more history to be shared and we’ll get to that over time.
When I first started working at The Guernsey Cow, it was the last year the business was run by Horn & Hardart (my grandfather still owned the property but had leased the business to H&H in 1976. More about the history of the business to come in a later post.)
My grandfather continued to walk around the place like he owned it and ran it. In a sense, he owned the legacy of The Guernsey Cow and protected that legacy by ‘advising’ management and staff alike. As a busboy/dishwasher/counter jockey there were a few simple rules that my grandfather imparted on every visit or walk-through:
Keep your hands out of your pockets.
Do not stop moving. Barring anything else, there is always cleaning, restocking to be done..
When wiping tables clean, wipe the sides as well as the tops. The sides face the customer as well as the top.
My mother returned from a recent visit to my grandmother with the three-page memo written in 1973 by my Uncle Joe “Pep” Puliti (Polite), then president of The Guernsey Cow. [Click the thumbnails at the end of this post to see the full page memo.] In it he lays out a challenge before all employees in the face of the impending Exton Square Mall opening.
At that point, the mall construction had already changed the face of Exton and West Whiteland by gobbling up what were once corn fields on the Zook property. The Zook House was raised up and moved to preserve it and make it part of the mall property (It was moved again in the mall’s expansion completed in 2000) .
Along with the increased traffic flow into Exton, the mall would also introduce the area to chain fast food restaurants. When it opened, the mall featured the area’s first McDonald’s. Shoppers would have no need to venture outside the confines of the mall walls in order to get a bite to eat.
It’s a treat to read the straight-forward direction given by my uncle about the actions each individual could take to make the business successful and the workday smoother. You can still see evidence of this level of care and consideration in some locally-owned eateries and other businesses and a lot less of it in the chain restaurants and bigger places.
Next time you are out to dinner, take a look around and see how many of the staff are standing around or chatting idly rather than seeing things to be done and doing them.
[Click the thumbnails below to see the full-size page of the letter.]
I picked up this sugar cube on eBay a couple of years ago. It wasn’t until I scanned it and blew up the images on both sides that I could see the detail of what was printed.
I’m guessing by the looks of the cars in the graphic below that this was from the 1940s. I would love to see the original artwork for this.
I have a few printer’s blocks from The Cow that were probably used for various menus and other printing press-printed materials. I’m working on making some prints from those to share sometime soon.
On the side is the logo and patent number by Quaker Cane Sugar. Apparently U.S. Patent 1882124 is a patent for “Wrapper for sugar units and like articles.”
It was patented by Alexander Dienst and Jacob J. Neuman in 1932. The beauty (or horror) of the Internet is that I can send you right to the original patent. To the left is a small bit
of the diagram included with the patent.
I could go on with researching the backgrounds of Dienst and Neuman but I’ll leave that to you. Especially, as they have little to do with The Guernsey Cow except providing the idea for the wrapper used for the sugar cube that sits on my desk now some 60 or 70 years later.
This is the inside of the menu I posted last week. I don’t really know what year this is from — my guess is late 1940’s. Perhaps someone that can remember when a ham sandwich was 25 cents can lend their expertise. Here are some closer looks:
I’m guessing that a “plain” milkshake vs. a milkshake with “ice cream” was a glass of guernsey milk shaken up. Remember, back then it was “real” whole milk so that would probably give you a nice thick frothy plain milk shake.