Check Out These Historic Watertown Signs

At Persona, signs may be our business, but they are also our passion.

In addition to designing, manufacturing and delivering business signs, we appreciate them, even the ones we didn’t make.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some historic and iconic signage right here in Watertown.

The Weather Ball

Much of Watertown’s well-known signage sprung up on the Magic Mile, the strip of U.S. Highway 212 that became a burgeoning commercial district more than a half-century ago. At the heart of the Magic Mile was the iconic Weather Ball, a massive tower that advertised KDLO-TV and was topped with a huge orb that changed colors to reflect to weather forecast. In recent years, KXLG-FM radio station honored that structure’s memory by erecting a miniature version of the weather ball atop its studio just a stone’s throw east of the original tower. Technically, it’s not a sign like the original, but we like it anyway!

The Black Steer

Persona is proud to be one of two official sign-makers for McDonald’s restaurants in the United States, but long before the Golden Arches loomed over Highway 212, hamburger lovers flocked to The Black Steer, considered by many to be Watertown’s first fast-food restaurant. The Black Steer sign featured a stylized steer head over the name of the restaurant, which was located near where the clock tower now stands. Who remembers the Friday special: 10 Steerburgers for $1?


Zesto has been serving up tasty treats in Watertown for as long as we can remember. The well-known brand has been around since the mid-1940s, with the first location believed to have been in Jefferson City, Mo. The restaurants began as a national franchise, but in the 1950s all the locations became independent. Many of the original Zestos changed their names, but today there are still about two dozen Zestos in the U.S., according to Wikipedia. They are in Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina and South Dakota, which features four. In addition to Watertown, the towns of Brookings, Mitchell and Pierre all currently have Zestos! The sign remains one of the most-recognizable signs in the country.   

Grocery stores

A generation ago, the main options for grocery shopping were Spies Super Value at the heart of the Magic Mile, beneath the shadow of the Weather Ball, and the downtown stores Red Owl and O.P. Skaggs. Despite being long gone, their signs remain part of Watertown’s soul. Spies touted itself with signage that read “Good Things to Eat,” and “Giant Junction Super Valu.”  

Mobil’s big red Pegasus

This iconic service station sign was, and still is, an easily recognized symbol. The flying red horse was first used by Vacuum Oil in South Africa in 1911. In 1931, the red Pegasus – a symbol of speed and power – was adopted as Mobil’s U.S. trademark. Collectors still love the vintage Pegasus signs.


The five-and-dime store chain was huge for most of the 20th century, but it went out of business in 1997. The remnants of the company morphed into the Foot Locker chain. Watertown’s Woolworth’s was located at the corner of Kemp Avenue and Second Street, where Gather now keeps the city’s coffee drinkers satisfied. The popular coffee shop even pays homage to the building’s history by displaying an original sign that hung inside of Woolworth’s.

‘Ghost signs’

A ghost sign is an old hand-painted advertising sign that has been preserved on a building for an extended period of time. Many ghost signs from the 1890s to 1960s are still visible. Such signs were most commonly used in the decades before the Great Depression, according to Wikipedia. A sign may be kept for its nostalgic appeal, or simply indifference by the owner. Some ghost signs in Watertown, like the 7-Up ad on the side of the Goss Opera House, have been restored.


Large letters spelled out the Quadee on this building in west Watertown. The company was once among Watertown’s largest employers. It eventually became Minnesota Rubber and Plastics before closing in recent years.

Looking ahead

It’s fun to look at the past, but at Persona, we aim to serve all your signage needs for the future!