POLO IN THE CHAGRIN VALLEY
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the Chagrin Valley was a prime riding and hunting area for wealthy Clevelanders. It was also the destination for those seeking a day in the country or property for a rural cottage. With the building of the Interurban trains from Cleveland in 1897, the Chagrin Valley was much more accessible. Passengers could ride to Gates Mills and beyond via the Maple Leaf Line, or to Chagrin Falls and points east .
Gates Mills, Hunting Valley and parts of Geauga County east of the Chagrin River were crisscrossed with trails open to all riders. Many of the trails belonged to or were maintained by the Hunt Club (Chagrin Valley Hunt Club.) “On July 1, 1909 the Hunt Club bought the Maple Leaf Inn including 15 ½ acres in Gates Mills between Epping Road and Chagrin River Road. The Hunt Club absorbed the Cleveland Hounds and Cuyahoga County Riding Association groups which had been active since 1897.” (Gates Mills Historical Society, 135)
“Everybody rode, if not always very well; those who did not keep horses could rent them from the Hunt Club” “The youngest children were often taught to ride ponies. Others were taken for rides by their governesses—“Fraulein” or “Mademoiselle”—in pony carts. The more experienced riders among the boys played midget polo, while the girls dreamed of winning the junior championship at the Hunt Club’s annual horse show.” (Tittle, p. 124)
Polo was introduced to the area in 1911 at Edmund Stevenson Burke Jr.’s Edphine Farms in Wickliffe. There on a “sedate Sunday a group of insane men were playing croquet on horseback,” according to a Plain Dealer article. The players also included Corliss Sullivan, Windsor White, and Frank Newcomer Sullivan. Mr. Burke was known as the “father of modern polo” in Cleveland. He soon purchased 218 acres northeast of New Kinsman Road and County Line Road naming it Hillbrook Farm (now the Hillbrook Club). (Tittle, pp. 63-65)
In 1912 the Hunt Club sponsored polo games at its “field south of the mill race and east of Epping Road. In 1914 or 1915 arrangements were made with the Gates Mills Improvement Society to use the larger regulation size field west of Epping Road.” (Gates Mills Historical Society, p. 135)
“A polo match consisted of six periods, or chukkers, each lasting seven-and-a-half minutes. Time was called only when the ball rolled out-of-bounds or someone fell. (Tittle, p. 127)
“Polo excited sufficient interest to prompt the … construction of fields at Halfred Farms (Windsor T. White), at Circle W Farm—Walter White’s estate in Gates Mills—and in Hunting Valley.” (Tittle, p. 65)
In the 1930’s, the Van Sweringen brothers, at the request of Windsor T. White, moved Chagrin River Road 300 feet to the East because the old River Road ran directly in front of the White’s Halfred Farms home. (I believe that this occurred north of the Polo Field only. See accompanying maps.) The Chagrin River with South Woodland to the south and Shaker Boulevard to the north bordered his estate.. The Van Sweringen’s Daisy Hill Farm was his neighbor to the west. (Tittle, p. 84)
The portion of Halfred Farms east of Chagrin River Road near Shaker Boulevard included a 40-stall barn, a smithy, a kennel, a bank of garages, several outdoor riding rings, a jumping course and an indoor riding ring/polo field. (Tittle, p. 95)
“As the headquarters of Halfred Farms’ riding instructor, the head of stables/huntsman, the tack head, the head of grooms and the troop of live-in grooms required to feed, groom and exercise the 50 or so horses owned by the Whites’ extended family. A phalanx of 18 grooms streamed in and out of the stables. After polo matches they washed down the ponies under two giant elms that shaded the courtyard. They led hunters across the river to a field of sandy bottomland that provided a good workout for the horses’ legs and kept the stable concourses lined with fresh straw which they even took pains to braid.” “The water which kept the 8.2 acre playing field green was suctioned from the Chagrin River by the largest pump in the U.S.” (Tittle, p.104)
“Whenever the valley’s U.S. Polo Association league teams came to Halfred Farms, kids perched on fences surrounding the regulation 200-by-300 feet field to watch the hard-driving play of local heroes like David Ingalls and Thomas and Mike Windsor. By valley standards, a four-man polo team with a combined handicap of 12 or more was tough to beat. The Whites and Ingalls each had a handicap of four. A 10 handicap—the highest possible—served notice of one’s international status. After Thomas White * helped to lead a Chagrin Valley Hunt Club team to a U.S. Polo Association Inter-Circuit National Championship in 1927 (the team won again in 1932), crowds began showing up for the matches—despite a 5 cent admission charge and impossible traffic jams.” (Tittle, pp. 124-125) Other “members of the Club team were J.A. Wigmore, David S. Ingalls, and Captain Wesley White. * (Gates Mills Historical Society, p. 135)
“In 1929, Hunting Valley fielded its first polo team, consisting of Auslanders Ray and Len Firestone and homegrown daredevils Mike and Tom White. “ During the 1930’s, weekend games of national importance reportedly drew crowds as great as 8,000.” (Tittle, p. 65) Polo flourished at the (Hunt) Club until World War II when it was discontinued.” (Gates Mills Historical Society, p. 135)
THE POLO FIELD (Cleveland Metroparks, Moreland Hills)
The Polo Field is located in Moreland Hills on the Southeast corner of South Woodland (Route 87) and Chagrin River Road. The Orange Township map (Range 10, Town 7) of the present Orange School District as it was in 1874, shows the polo field property belonged to David Sheldon. Mr. Sheldon also owned the acreage directly to the North of South Woodland. At that time South Woodland was called North Kinsman Road and followed a slightly different path for a short section to the West of Chagrin River Road.
“The Village of Moreland Hills was organized in 1929 from a part of Chagrin Falls Township,” (which includes the Polo field.) “In 1931 an eastern portion of Orange Village seceded and was annexed to Moreland Hills. The village comprises an area of 7.12 square miles.” (The Village of Moreland Hills, Moreland Hills Village Association, p. )
“In an attempt to accommodate the ever-increasing masses, in 1931 Hunting Valley built its own polo field surrounded by a wide perimeter of grass, at the corner of New Kinsman (Route 87) and River Road. “ (Tittle, p. 126) A polo barn was constructed to the north, across South Woodland Road. “According to The Horse, the Valley, and the Chagrin Valley Hunt, a 1947 history, the Van Sweringens provided the funding. Having conceived an interest in the game, M.J. began attending all the matches, which took place throughout the 1930’s at 5:00 on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at either the Hunt Club, Circle W or Halfred Farms, and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3:30 at the Hunting Valley field.” (Tittle, p. 126)
“The start of weekend games was signaled by a stately procession down River Road of two long lines of polo ponies led by grooms holding onto horses on either side. The ponies were followed by limousine after limousine in which the players rode. Grandes dames sat under canopies or in specially delineated “boxes,” while those lucky enough to snag season parking passes sat on the hoods of Packards, Cadillacs and LaSalles, sandwiched in rows two and three
deep. The other half of Hunting Valley’s First Family, Delia White stayed home—to pick up the pieces, as she liked to joke, and conclude preparations for her post game tea for the players and their friends.” (Tittle, p.126)
“The inaugural match at the Hunting Valley field saw the Hunting Valley team, which included Mike and Thomas White, defeat by a score of 10-7 the “Cowboys,” a pickup team on which David Ingalls rode No. 2. The match was said to be one of the fastest games ever witnessed in the valley.” (Tittle, p. 127)
In 1942, The Cleveland Metropolitan Parks purchased 60.87 acres including the polo field from the Van Sweringen Realty Company for $28,039.50. (Michael Barnard, Cleveland Metroparks Administration)
* There are conflicting accounts about the identity of the polo team leader, Thomas or Wesley White.
Hunting Valley: a history by Diana Tittle and Mark Gottlieb. Hunting Valley Historical Society, 1999. ISBN 0940601141
A Pictorial history of Gates Mills, 1826-1976 In honor of the Bicentennial of the United States and The Sesquicentennial of the Village of Gates Mills by the Gates Mills Historical Society, Gates Mills, Ohio, 1976
Orange Township map (Range 10, Town 7) of the present Orange School District as it was in 1874.
Moreland Hills Historical Society Sandra Cobb