This is another photo my grandmother had in her files. I believe it’s The Guernsey Cow circa post World War II. That’s when my grandfather changed the name of the business from The Exton Dairy Grille to The Guernsey Cow.
I really like the detail of this pastoral scene atop the roof. I don’t know if it was painted from an actual Chester County scene or a creation of Pottstown sign-painter Harry Reed’s. I also wonder how it fared in harsh winter and summer storms — especially the twin cows standing watch on either side of “The Guernsey Cow” board.
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 sign is one of my favorite relics of The Guernsey Cow. Hand-lettered on a stiff board, it is a sign of times gone by. I love the use of four different typefaces and the decorative border. More than that, it speaks to the kind of business my grandfather wanted to run and represent. I can’t imagine the run-ins he might have with customers were he operating the business today.
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.