This piece first appeared in the Mahomet Citizen on March 8, 2011.
Raising pigs is a full-time profession. But owning a pig sign has a lifetime privilege for Bill and Barbara Herriott of Seymour.
The Herriott family has farmed land just south of Mahomet for generations. After returning from the Air Force in 1956, Bill continued the tradition.
“Farming is not a full-time occupation, because you do the harvest and the planting,” he said. “I wanted something year-round to do, so I decided to raise pigs.”
Herriott learned that the Landrace breed was one of the most prevalent breeds in the world, but was scarce in the United States. He traveled to Noblesville to see Landrace pigs and talked to a farmer there. As he left, the farmer mentioned he’d be putting up a new pig sign, so Herriott could have his.
The plywood sign had a white pig on a dark background. Herriott added his name and an arrow pointing to the building that housed two sows he purchased from another Landrace pig owner in Fisher. The Pig Sign has been on the corner of 1900N and Illinois 47 South since 1960.
When part of the sign fell down years later, Herriott took the sign down to fix it. The couple began receiving requests to put the sign back up from residents of Pine Tree subdivision.
After a few minor repairs, the sign was back up again.
Doug Maddox, Pine Tree resident and current Pig Sign caretaker, said, “It’s a sign that everybody uses as a landmark. Not just people in Pine Tree, but everyone who lives in this general vicinity uses it to find their home. Or, if someone is coming from Mahomet or Champaign we tell them to turn at the ‘Pig Sign.’”
Through the years, the sign has been vandalized and even stolen. The original sign was mounted on 6 x 6 posts. Late one night, someone pushed the sign north, breaking it off from the bottom. Herriott never found the sign.
During the time when Herriott was designing a new Pig Sign, many people stopped at their residence to ask if they knew where the Pig Sign was. A young man riding a tractor said, “My boss said to meet him at the corner where the Pig Sign is, but I can’t find it.”
A friend of Herriott made him a show board to corral pigs at the fair. He traced the outline of the pig from the board, built a new sign and put it back on the corner with bigger posts that can’t be broken off.
Not only is it a worry when the sign is gone, but also when the sign is covered up.
“We were celebrating our son, Ben, getting a master’s degree. We blew up a picture of Ben about the size of the Pig Sign and put an announcement on there,” Barbara said. “We were leaving our house and saw two ladies putting a note on the sign asking others not to cover the sign. She had used it on some invitations for an event that day, telling people to turn at the Pig Sign.”
“I don’t think she knew we were the owners. But we’ve told people not to cover up the sign, and there we were, covering it up,” she continued.
In 1995, Bill was diagnosed with prostate cancer. By that time, his pig business was booming with 600 to 800 pigs, and the females were ready to have babies. In a year’s time, he sold all the pigs, emptied the building and got them off of market. By 1996, he stopped raising pigs to take care of the cancer.
“We really had great pigs. And it was important to have a sign. It served its purpose well by helping us sell the pigs. But its purpose has changed,” Bill said.
Residents from Pine Tree noticed the sign was looking a little shabby, so they asked Millie and Ernie Rosenburg, former owners of Mahomet’s Ace Hardware and friends of the Herriotts, to ask if the people of Pine Tree could update and maintain the sign.
Maddox said the Rosenburgs helped with donating supplies to preserve the sign.
Because Maddox is semi-retired, an artist and works from home, he has taken on the task of watching over the sign. He said there are a lot of people in the community who contribute to it.
“I remember the day I was taking down the old sign,” Maddox said. “Somebody pulled up and said, ‘Don’t take down the Pig Sign! We can’t find our way home!’”
In a week, he had the new sign up. Herriott said a couple people have come by wanting to buy the old sign, dubbing it a landmark. But he decided to keep it.
Former Pig Signs did not have a title. When the Pine Tree residents designed the new sign they titled it “Pig Sign,” but no one is certain who put “The” in the title.
Paul Springer, Fisher, has driven past the Pig Sign throughout the years, and decided to photograph it for the Champaign County Camera Club best in show competition at Lincoln Square Mall. Maddox said a community member noted the sign was now “famous.”
Bill and Barbara still enjoy their farm and hearing stories about the sign. Bill said, “The sign has been very much fun.”