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 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
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…