Miami Vally Hunt and Polo Club

HISTORY

Even before 1920, the Polo Club took its place in Dayton history through the sport that gave us our name. George Mead and Harold Talbott imported a team of polo ponies and the first matches were arranged in 1916 by Fred Patterson at Community Field, which is now the public golf course.

Several years later, the original clubhouse was built to accommodate visiting polo teams from all over the Midwest. There were two guest rooms where the bar is now and three guest rooms upstairs, one of which was used as a "hide- away" bar during prohibition. Stables north of the clubhouse, where the ice skating rink was eventually built, could board both visiting and home-team ponies. There were two practice fields on the south side of the drive up to the club with the game field running north and south on the other side. An elaborate covered grandstand faced the field eastwardly.

The polo games were well attended by the publicalong with the membership and the news photographers came out regularly to take photos of the spectators and the players. The scene was glamorous as we welcomed teams from Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, Louisville and more. Stable boys walked the ponies after a Chucker (chukka), each pony covered with colorful blankets with the players' initials in large letters. The Dayton team wore white breeches and their shirts carried the club colors, large black and white squares. One player reported that the cost for a year of polo, traveling with ponies and grooms to the different cities to play, was around $40,000 even in the 20's.

In November 1919, a corporation was formed - F.B. Patterson, G.H. Mead, Frank Hill Smith, E.S. Reynolds and H.E. Talbott, Jr. under the name of the Miami Valley Hunt and Polo Club for the purpose of "promoting polo, hunting, riding and other outdoor sports and for the social entertainment of the members and their guests." The hunting activity never became as popular as polo, largely because it was not a spectator sport.

The original membership was divided into three categories: life members, who did not pay initiation fees or dues for 15 years but were the original purchasers of club stock at $2,500 per share (which became worthless when the club was reorganized in 1938), annual members, who paid an initiation fee of $250 plus $150 per year in dues, and out-of-town members, (more than 50 miles from Dayton) who paid $50 per year in dues. A sign of the times, men were the members with women and children being extended privileges. The club was formally opened on July 3, 1920 with a large dinner dance with waiters dressed in full livery. Another traditional activity was started with the very beginning of the Polo Club-the first 4th of July children's "Field Day" races were organized in 1921 by Mrs. Robert T. Houk, Jr. And one of our most beloved annual events, the spectacular Fourth of July Fireworks, was first organized in 1922 by Bennett Gates. The Great Depression almost closed down the Polo Club. The staff, except for Frenchie Owings was dismissed and the polo ponies sold. Mrs. Minerva Seekamp with her two daughters came to live in the north upstairs guest rooms while they cooked and cared for the clubhouse unti1 1958. The club was able to survive from a financial standpoint, even thought the membership fell off drastically, because the land was owned by Colonel Deeds, and he leased it to the club at only $1 a year through the hard times.

After Prohibition, the bar was moved from the second floor to a little room in the basement right under the present bar and could easily accommodate the 20 or so people who attended the monthly dances. There was no dinner served and the cost per person was $1 at the door. By the end of the 30's the membership was up, the tennis courts restored, having been unattended for almost 10 years, and full activities underway. The small basement bar was no longer big enough so the two downstairs guest rooms were converted into a bar similar to what it is today. The old living room was about 12 feet narrower than it is now, so in the winter the outside dance floor was enclosed with portable wooden partitions and covered with portable roofing. There were two large heaters attached to the clubhouse wall.

There was even an enclosure going down the steps to the springhouse, which was a "hide-away" bar with cushioned benches around. In cold weather a roaring fire helped to warm it, but efforts to make such a structure airtight was the beginning of the club members lending a hand in the maintenance and physical operation of the club. After July 1937 no cash was accepted at the club, and the practice of signing "chits" was established. In December 1938 the club was reorganized and incorporated into the Miami Valley Hunt & Polo Club, Inc. "to own and operate a club exclusively for the pleasure and recreation of its shareholders and members." As was the custom during World War II the club had a very low military membership dues schedule with no initiation fees. Due to the attractiveness of duty at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton became popular to servicemen throughout the country and consequently the Polo Club membership skyrocketed with an increase in activities and attendance as well. However, due to the low dues income, the club resorted to creative measures to increase revenue. One of the more profitable means was to raffle off hard to get liquor. The grandstands had a lot of metal in them and were torn up for the war effort. In the early 50's Colonel Deeds decided to sell all of the Polo Club property which he had leased to the club and gave the club $5,000 toward the purchase price. The club took out a mortgage and later increased it in order to purchase part of the adjacent skeet club's property. By the 60's the club was doing quite well financially and the clubhouse was remodeled, enlarging the living room and doing away with the winter enclosure. The first paddle tennis court and the hut were built in 1958. The original spring water swimming pool was updated with a filtering system in 1959 and the pool was totally rebuilt in 1965.

In 1959, 36 Christmas trees were collected from members and planted around the club entrance. Much of the painting and upkeep of the club was contributed by members, something unique about the Miami Valley Hunt and Polo Club, which these efforts continue today. Our members contribute their talents and services; whether in physical labor, extra financial help, time spent in leadership of the club or by chairing the many events and social activities.

After the war, it was suggested that with the Moraine Country Club now in operation there was no need for the continuation of the Polo Club. As written in the memoirs of C.E. Drury, "whoever made this suggested misjudged our membership." Having started during the depression to lend a hand, members were now dedicated to helping it survive and improve. That dedication continues today, passed down from generation to generation and between friends. It's as simple as black and white... the flag flies for family!

Reprinted from oral & written history complied for the Club's 75th Anniversary.