Don't have a cow, man: Coburg Dairy name changes to Borden; landmark cow will stay

The iconic Coburg Cow has been watching over Savannah Highway from its St. Andrews Shopping Center location since the 1950s.

Would you even think of renaming Middleton Place, Rainbow Row or The Battery?

Of course not, and you wouldn't dare rename the Coburg Cow.

Heavens no, said the Borden Dairy Co. of South Carolina, the new name for Coburg Dairy.

"We have no plans to move or change the Coburg Cow," Ed Medors, general manager for Borden in South Carolina, assured a nervous Lowcountry on Wednesday.

The Coburg Cow, an iconic, lighted bovine that rotates on a stand about 10 feet above Savannah Highway at St. Andrews Shopping

Center, was placed at its present location in the late 1950s.

Coburg, which once operated a 100-acre dairy down the road from the cow sign, has now become Borden, but it is still "the same people" and same corporation that was once Coburg, Medors said.

Borden has it's own well-known icon in Elsie the Cow, but it cares about the Coburg Cow's heritage, too, Medors said.

"Elsie is very dear to our hearts, but we understand how people love the Coburg Cow. We want to preserve its history," he said.

He said Borden milk already is sold in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, and beginning this week will be marketed in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.

The present cow and sign were put up in 1959, and according to a 1991 newspaper account, "Some sort of cow" has marked the spot since the late 1920s, early '30s.

The Coburg Cow has a legacy, legions of dedicated followers and even its own Facebook page. The cow is decorated for holidays, wears costumes near Halloween and was taken to a shelter before Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989.

The sign was endangered by zoning in the early 2000s, but was granted a variance by the city of Charleston.

"It's just an icon, and I wouldn't want to see it go away," said Joe Villeponteaux, a Riverland Terrace resident who grew up appreciating the sight of the cow every time he ventured near.

"It would not be the same corner if the cow didn't happen to be there. It's a landmark, like 'The Big Chicken' in Marietta, Ga.," said Villeponteaux, 54.

Villeponteaux said he never climbed to the top of the cow, but knows people who have. Climbing the cow was a "tradition" that started with little kids, then high schoolers and then Citadel cadets.

Climbing on the cow resulted in a serious injury to a cadet in 1991, followed by a temporary removal of the cow by Coburg officials, who replaced it with a newer, stronger cow protected by a barrier.

A February 1988 story in The Charleston Evening Post described the reverence for, and the abuse endured by, the cow. "Over the years, the cow has had her share of woes. She's been ridden, had her tail cut off, had ink splashed all over her and even been pelted with BBs," Ellen Anderson wrote.

Coburg executive Frank Hankel told Anderson, "The tail has been sawed off, torn off, turned upside down and welded. Just the other day, the tail disappeared again."

Hankel said the fiberglass cow had been taken down a number of times for repairs, and each time, the dairy "received concerned letters from people who miss her."

He added, "For lots of kids, it's the closest thing to a cow they'll ever see."

Coburg opted to light the cow all night, in hopes of deterring vandals, but that didn't work, Hankel said. He told Anderson that the day might come when the cow would be removed. "If it gets worse, I guess we might have to take it down, but I don't want that to happen," he said.

Borden Dairy employs more than 200 people in South Carolina and distributes its Borden premium milk to hundreds of local retail locations in the state, including Walmart, Kroger, Publix and Piggly Wiggly.

1920: With 100 Jersey milk cows, Francis Stuart Hankel and I. Dennis Auld open Coburg Dairy on a 100-acre tract between Savannah Highway and Wappoo Creek. The Hankel family left Saxe-Coburg, Germany, in the 1700s and emigrated to South Carolina. Auld later withdrew from the partnership, and Coburg grew to be the largest independent dairy in South Carolina.

Late 1920s/early 1930s: A "hanging cow" sign outlined in blinking neon is hung.

1950: A new two-dimensional sign showing a cow standing on the words "Coburg Dairy" replaces the hanging cow.

1959: The current three- dimensional model, designed and installed by Roberts Sign Co., comes to Savannah Highway. The tradition of riding the cow begins.

1960s: The News and Courier's John Burbage, who grew up near the sign in Avondale, noted in a November 1991 column that it "was an electronic marvel back then as the sign was lighted, and constantly turned round and round." He wrote, "Kids from Moreland, Byrnes Downs and Avondale who came along later in the 1960s began the tradition of climbing the cow as a sort of rite of passage."

1989: Hurricane Hugo hits, and while the cow is safely stowed away, the neon sign that she stands on is destroyed.

1990: Coburg Dairy leaves the West Ashley site for a larger facility beside Interstate 26 in North Charleston.

1991: The neon sign is repaired and the cow is brought out of hibernation.

1991: The cow is removed from its perch after a Citadel cadet, Roy Maybank, is injured in a fall from the cow on Halloween night. The cadet was reportedly unconscious for several minutes after the fall, and broke his wrist. A newspaper account headlined "Landmark dairy cow removed," states, "Police reported that more cadets were climbing the sign an hour after the accident."

1991: Coburg holds a ceremony to dedicate the repaired cow and the turntable it stands on, and announces that cadets will pay an estimated $4,000 repair bill. The new cow has a strengthened tail and a barrier around the turntable to discourage climbing on it. Citadel bagpipers perform at the ceremony.

2000: The cow is again repaired and reinstalled after being vandalized.

2001: In the face of overwhelming community support, a variance in the zoning ordinances for the city of Charleston allows the cow to remain at its current location.

2011: Coburg becomes Borden Dairy Co. but vows to keep the cow as it is.