Remembering Marmsie

I started this blog New Year’s Eve 2007, a little over a year after my grandfather, Larry Polite, died about six weeks short of his 98th birthday. As we moved my grandmother, Gladys Polite (or Marmsie as we and many others knew her), out of their apartment and into assisted living we needed to move a lot of the things they collected and kept through the years to new homes. My initial interest in just uncovering a fresh look at the things they held dear over the years turned into an effort to show her it was worth saving it all.

She had always been concerned about the things she saved and who would want them. Early on I convinced her that there are people out there that are interested in such things, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, and they will find them if we put them ‘out there’. Multiple explanations of ‘the Internet’ and ‘the World Wide Web’ were met with the same blank stares that my job descriptions garnered through the years. “Honey, you know I don’t know what you are talking about,” she would often say with the slightest of smiles.

As I started going through their things that marked their history with The Guernsey Cow and Exton, PA and Chester County in general, I would send her printed copies of the blog posts and the comments that people left. I would tell her how many people visited the blog, how far away people visited. What pleased her most is that people remembered and were actively out there searching for information about The Guernsey Cow and the history of Exton, PA. I think it also pleased her that saving “all this stuff” had been worth it.

In 2009, I launched another blog dedicated to her “stuff”. The Amercian Gothic Parodies blog is a showcase of her collection of parodies of the Grant Wood classic. When they were living in Exton, my grandmother had a wall in the basement dedicated to magazine covers, ads, greeting cards and more that used parodies of American Gothic. She continued to collect them on her own and from friends and family that knew of her obsession.

In December 2009, a student at The Arts University College at Bournemouth, England got in touch with me and asked permission to use the collection in her dissertation on Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. She also asked some interview questions of my grandmother that I relayed. My grandmother was shocked and thrilled that her collection would spark the interest of a college student in England and that she would be included in it as well.

Last weekend, my grandmother, Gladys Polite, passed away at the age of 95. I have fresh boxes of the things she left behind to go with the many boxes that I’ve had for several years now. I’m actively digitizing things as I can and will share fresh material from The Guernsey Cow as I get to them. Know that your visits, your comments, your memories of The Guernsey Cow and Exton pleased her. Thanks for sharing here and on The Guernsey Cow Facebook page.

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Meet You At 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”
Exton, Pennsylvania
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.

Exton, PA through the ages from above

I was digging around on West Chester Jim‘s history site recently and stumbled on a link for the Pennsylvania Geological Survey’s site for historical aerial photography of Pennsylvania.

In 1937, this is what the crossroads in Exton looked like:

Aerial Photo of Exton, PA (Chester County) in 1937

Aerial Photo of Exton, PA (Chester County) in 1937

Mostly farm fields and woods. Here’s the same photo zoomed in on the crossroads of Routes 100 and 30 (the Lincoln Highway).

Exton, PA Crossroads in 1937

Exton, PA Crossroads in 1937

Next I overlayed the same shot with a shot from 1971.

Exton, PA 1971

Exton, PA 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.

Exton, PA Crossroads 1971 - Routes 100 & 30

Exton, PA Crossroads 1971 - Routes 100 & 30

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.

The Guernsey Cow and Exton, PA Crossroads circa 1974

The Guernsey Cow and Exton, PA Crossroads circa 1974

A close-up below shows The Cow property, Sleepy Hollow Hall (aka The Massey House) and The Guernsey Cow sign across Lancaster Highway.

The Guernsey Cow Property circa 1974

The Guernsey Cow Property circa 1974

And another overlay below using Google Maps shows the level of development in the crossroads today 30 years later.

Exton, PA circa 2007

Exton, PA circa 2007

The Guernsey Cow property below as it is today as the DNBFirst bank.

The Guernsey Cow/ DNBFirst Bank circa 2007

The Guernsey Cow/ DNBFirst Bank circa 2007

Flooded World War II Era Exton, PA

Cars and a truck navigate the Lincoln Highway during a flood in Exton, PA

Cars and a truck navigate the Lincoln Highway during a flood in Exton, PA

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.

Our Ice Cream for Health; War Bonds for Victory

Our Ice Cream for Health; War Bonds for Victory

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.”

Flooded Lincoln Highway brings out tow truck rescue

Flooded Lincoln Highway brings out tow truck rescue

Chester County Tours & Walks: The Guernsey Cow, Sleepy Hollow Hall & the Zook House Aug 21

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.

Before The Cow, there was The Exton Dairy Grille

The Exton Dairy Grille ca. 1931from 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.

Preparing for Change

1973 Letter Exton Square Opening

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:

    Table

  1. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
  2. Do not stop moving. Barring anything else, there is always cleaning, restocking to be done..
  3. 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.]

Guernsey Cow Letter 1973 p1
Guernsey Cow Letter 1973 p2
The Guernsey Cow Letter Page 3 1973