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.
Last year saw the passing of the last of the Polite brothers that managed The Guernsey Cow in Exton, Pennsylvania for decades. Joseph E. Puliti/Polite (aka “Pep” or “Peppy”) died March 31, 2014 just shy of his 90th birthday.
The youngest of the brothers, Pep became the chief ice cream officer at The Guernsey Cow until its sale to Horn & Hardart in 1976.
Pep went to and played football at West Chester High and then at Appalachia State until he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and entered into World War II. During the war, he was stationed in the South Pacific.
Upon returning home from his Marine Corps service he attended the University of Maryland, graduating in 1950 with a degree in Dairy Technology. At Maryland, he met his future wife, Barbara. They married, moved back to the Exton area and had three children: daughter Wendy and sons, Kerry and Kim.
Pep resumed his duties at The Cow and, for more than 25 years, was the father of invention when it came to ice cream flavors. He boasted that the list of flavors tried was over 400. He had his successes (Black Licorice) and his duds (Roquefort or Moon Dust) that often were inspired by current events, customer requests, or his own wild imagination.
He often surreptitiously included alcohol in flavors such as Rum Raisin, Egg Nog, Grasshopper and Turkish Coffee especially around Christmas time. Pep posted a few of his flavorful stories in the comments here.
We grand-nephews and -nieces recall Pep as the happy-go-lucky one of the brothers. He always had a joke and was willing to horse around. His son, Kim, told me a few years ago:
“Peppy’s famous gratuitous phrases for pushy customers were ‘Help your fat’ and ‘Maximilian’ (for ‘Thanks a million’) which were spoken so quickly as to be partially unintelligible.”
While Pep wasn’t making ice cream and caramels he was playing golf at Whitford Country Club and running a garage door opener business on the side.
Following the sale of The Cow in 1976, Pep moved West to Colorado. An avid skier and cyclist, the Colorado Rockies beckoned. He followed professional photographer son, Kim, to Denver for 8 months then landed in Durango CO where he opened up Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlor downtown.
After a few years he sold the shop and eventually joined the Durango Silverton Railroad where he was in charge of concessions on the train and in the station. He enlarged the offerings there from just snacks to include clothing and gift items, increasing concession revenues and turning it into a million dollar venture.
In 1998, he moved back to West Chester to be closer to family. He took a role as the “Candy Man” at Boscov’s in the Exton Square Mall next door to the original Guernsey Cow property. As his daughter Wendy recalled, “He ended his career making fudge at Boscov’s next door to the place he started his career making caramels at The Cow.”
In 2003, he moved to Ann’s Choice in Warminster, PA, enjoying a group of friends for biweekly lunches as well as a regular breakfast group, and living independently the rest of his life.
I am grateful to Uncle Pep for the information and knowledge he provided in the early years of building TheGuernseyCow.com. I enjoyed his frequent emails containing stories of old Exton and the hijinx at The Guernsey Cow. His comments are throughout this site as well as on the Facebook page dedicated to The Cow and Exton memories. We’re lucky to have them.
Special thanks to Pep’s children for providing memories and photos.
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!
I just passed by the pile of newspaper clippings and paper in The Guernsey Cow bin and this card caught my eye. I read it and realized it has a little more ‘story’ and ‘hype’ than an earlier version of the history of The Cow that appeared on the back of a menu.
Permit us to welcome you to “The Guernsey Cow“, at Exton, where the Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) crosses Route 100, just three miles south of the Downingtown interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. 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 ice cream with better flavor or cream caramels as smooth and of more healthful content than that served here, amde with dairy products from tested Guernsey Cows.
The Guernsey Cow has been under the same management since 1931, and during that time we have taken great pride in serving the finest of Foods and Dairy Products. The manufacture of our own ice cream and famous cream caramels is done right on the premises, using the finest ingredients available anywhere. A majority of the many and unusual Guernsey Cow Ice Cream flavors are originals, not to be found in any other dairy store in the country. Our cream caramels are nationally and internationally known and are regularly sent all over the world, while our ice cream is occasionally flown to Europe to satisfy customer appetites.
The store building originally was a barn, and the stones in the building, today, are part of that old structure. Through the years, since its construction, the original building has gone through many internal changes. From a produce stand, to a fluid milk dairy, through a wholesale ice cram plant, and an ice cream mix plant, The Dairy Grille finally emerged in 1931. By 1941, the original Dairy Grille was changed to The Guernsey Cow, a name which was adopted through the insistence of our customers. Anywhere you might travel today, you can usually find someone who will understand the phrase, “MEET YOU AT THE COW“.
The residence on the property is one of the oldest in this vicinity. The back part of this house was apparently built in 1685 by people who moved into this valley, following the lines of migration north from Chester on 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 ar just beyond, near Devon.
Visitors from a distance will enjoy 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.
When traveling East, stop in to see us, just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Downingtown interchange.
THE GUERNSEY COW
on the Lincoln Highway
seven miles west of Paoli, at
“The crossroads of the World”
Phone: (215) 363-9796
The Philadelphia Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was completed in 1950 which would have included the Downingtown interchange. The emphasis on the proximity of The Cow to the Downingtown interchange was probably a response to traffic that the turnpike drew away from what had been the main East-West corridor: the Lincoln Highway aka Lancaster Pike aka U.S. Rte 30.
I like the phrase, “The crossroads of the world” to describe the intersection of Routes 100 & 30 in the center of Exton. I don’t know if that was something my grandfather created or whether other folks thought the same. I know we grew up thinking that’s what it was — and that the world thought the same.
In 1937, this is what the crossroads in Exton looked like:
Mostly farm fields and woods. Here’s the same photo zoomed in on the crossroads of Routes 100 and 30 (the Lincoln Highway).
Next I overlayed the same shot with a shot from 1971.
The Exton Square Mall had not yet been developed but the Exton Drive-In is there (can you find it?). Plenty of housing and commercial development are starting to show their marks on the West Whiteland landscape.
The photo below is a shot of The Guernsey Cow around 1974 or 75 after The Exton Square Mall was put in and the K-Mart and Exton Cinema were under construction. My grandfather had this in his office and my older brother has it on display in his home now.
A close-up below shows The Cow property, Sleepy Hollow Hall (aka The Massey House) and The Guernsey Cow sign across Lancaster Highway.
And another overlay below using Google Maps shows the level of development in the crossroads today 30 years later.
The Guernsey Cow property below as it is today as the DNBFirst bank.
At some time during World War II Exton apparently suffered a significant flood. The Valley Creek that runs along the road across from what was then The Exton Dairy Grill looks to have overflowed its banks. A Brandywine Farms truck navigates the waters along with two cars.
Before there was The Guernsey Cow billboard, during World War II, this sign pointed the way to The Exton Dairy Grill and proclaimed “Our Ice Cream for Health; War Bonds for Victory.”
Last week, I received an email from Frank Lavin who worked for Horn & Hardart and managed The Guernsey Cow for a few years in the late 1970s.
I’ve edited the letter a bit for length:
I worked for Horn & Hardart from 1973 ( during High school ) through 1978 ( as a Restaurant Manager ).
Horn & Hardart took over the ‘Cow’ for a few years in the late seventies… I knew the ‘Cow’ was better off with the Polite’s. Horn & Hardart was in the process of closing stores (pretty much the end of the line for the once great company).
I worked at the ‘Cow’ for about 2 years when I just got out of High School in the restaurant as the night manager for H & H and later they brought me back to make the ice cream for not only the Exton restaurant but also the rest of their Philadelphia footprint of restaurants and retail stores.
I remember helping Willie move from his home inside the store to his new home in the small cottage next to the big home in the rear of the restaurant.
Willie was ‘great’ he helped me immensely. I used to visit him ( after I left Horn & Hardart ) at least once a year until one day when I found his cottage was vacant. I spoke to someone who told me that he moved to Downingtown.
In a follow up email, Frank explained:
Yes, we used to ship the ice cream and also the caramels ( not sure who made the caramels for Horn & Hardart ) in the Guernsey Cow tubs to all the H & H stores in their Philadelphia market, such as:
Broad & Walnut
12th & Market ( Reading Terminal )
Cottman & Large
8th & Market
16th & Market
Bala (City Line Ave)
There were more, but these are some that I worked at.
I do remember both your Grandparents. Larry was a nice man. I was the afternoon manager and I spent some quality time with him. I was just out of High school ( very green behind the ears ) and he showed me around and taught me lot about managing the restaurant.
Do you remember Mackie? he worked at the Ship Inn and used to come in everyday?
I do remember Mackie as I’m sure many others do as well. He was some kind of character!
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.
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
It’s been a while since my last post and I’m hoping to show some new things soon. In the meantime I received this email the other day from Tom Malloy of Memphis, TN that I thought was worth sharing:
I grew up in Exton, Pa on Shoen road not far from the Cow. I remember Willie riding through my neighborhood., He would always say hello in his special way. I was always amazed that he remembered my name even when I was just a little kid. I don’t think I ever saw Willie without a gigantic smile on his face. I remember one time he let try to hold his bike up when I was little kid. It was too heavy for me with all of the horns and mud flaps and mirrors. I remember seeing him at the Farmers Market and I’d always see his parked in the Drive In.
My family would got to the Cow every Sunday after church. I think I ordered the same thing every week for 15 years or so. It was cube steak sandwich with fries and a black & white shake and it was awesome. I can still my brothers lips stained black by the blue moon ice or the licorice. It was a great place in a great time.
It was my brother Brian’s first job working at the cow.
Do you remember the place across the street where the big cow sign stood. It was called the Vittle House run by three brothers. They sold a sandwich called a beer sandwich that was incredible. I could die for one of those beer sandwiches now.
Thank for the Memories. I live in Memphis, Tn now and it was a great trip down memory lane.
Thanks for the note Tom! Does anyone else out there remember the Vittle House and what beer sandwiches are made of?