A Chester County community rallies to save a treasured sign

Published by The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Melanie Bavaria, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED: November 02, 2011

West Marlborough, Chester County, is a place where backyards are big enough to raise horses, where the expanse of a farm field can dwarf a tractor until it seems, at a distance, a toy.

"Welcome to what the whole world should look like," Gordon Rowe III tells a visitor.

Rowe, 36, and other longtime residents would like to keep it that way, right down to its quirks.

Chief among those is a faded sign painted on an abandoned mill at Doe Run Road and Route 841.

Until recently, the sign read: "BLOW HORN." It has been a topic of controversy during the last couple of weeks, since someone scraped off its lettering.

The sign's history varies depending on who is doing the telling.

Some say it was painted before a stop sign was posted at what was a dangerous intersection because drivers could not see the oncoming traffic beyond the bend in the road. Others claim that a man who lived in the mill painted it so he would know to go out and greet visitors to the property.

Regardless of the sign's origins, most agree it has been an important piece of this Chester County community's culture for a very long time.

"Blow Horn is the spiritual center of this county," Rowe said.

Rob Mastrippolito, 36, a friend of Rowe's, agreed.

"That barn has had 'Blow Horn' written on it since Christ was corporal," he said.

A couple of weeks ago, Rowe noticed that the lettering had faded to the point where it was was barely visible.

Rowe said, half-jokingly, "Forget Wall Street protests; let's go protest about the sign."

With that, he coined the phrase "Occupy Blow Horn." His sister, Morgan, created a Facebook page for the protest.

Within two days, the public group had more than 1,200 members.

"We just thought we'd get a couple friends to go down to the mill and honk our horns one last time and then we'd go get breakfast or something" Rowe said.

Said Mastrippolito: "Two days later, we looked at the Facebook group, and I said, Oh, my God, Gordon, what have we done?"

Late last month, they organized a tongue-in-check protest at the site.

"We didn't really occupy it, we occupied it for 15 minutes on Saturday morning," Rowe said. An estimated 50 cars, 100 people, and 3 dogs showed up.

Organizers hope their efforts will get someone to repaint the sign. There have been rumors, according to Rowe, that the property's owner is considering doing so "after the dust settles."

Attempts to reach the owner were unsuccessful.

Rowe and Mastrippolito have decided to make the occupation an annual event that will take place on the third Saturday of every October.

A fund would also allow people to donate to the Brandywine Conservancy or the Brandywine Valley Association, "both organizations committed to open space," in the name of Occupy Blow Horn.

One thing is clear: The sign may have faded, but its local importance has not.

"The erosion of small-town community is really at the heart of this," Rowe said. "It's just a sign, really, but in the bigger sense it's something a lot of folks have latched on to and taken to heart because, they don't like seeing part of what makes them who they are vanish."

Original article can be found here