The Miami Valley Hunt and Polo Club was founded in 1919 as a social club promoting polo, hunting and outdoor activities for families.
The private club was established by giants in the community such as Fred Patterson (the son of National Cash Register Company founder John Patterson), G.H. Mead, E.S. Reynolds and H.E. Talbott.
Harold Talbott, the first mayor of Oakwood, and George Mead, who in the early 1900s ran Dayton-based Mead Corp., imported a team of polo ponies and held the first matches in 1916 at Community Field, which is now a public golf course.
Spectators gathered to watch stable boys lead a parade of ponies covered with bright-colored blankets. Each blanket bore the initials of the player who would later race his horse down the polo field swinging a mallet trying to connect with a ball and send it flying into a goal.
Teams from Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo and Louisville traveled to the area to take on the Dayton team, which wore white breeches and shirts with large black and white squares. During the 1920s it cost $40,000 for a year of traveling with ponies and grooms.
The club was formally opened July 3, 1920 with a large dinner dance with waiters dressed in full livery, according to the historical narrative compiled by club members. Membership was open to men who could extend club privileges to women and children.
The original grounds were designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, known for designing New York’s Central Park and the 1893 Chicago World Fair.
The club was a social center for Dayton-area families. Fourth of July field day races were first organized in 1921 and became a club tradition. The following year the annual fireworks display began. In the summer, members relaxed in the sun while their children swam in the spring water swimming pool or played tennis matches on clay and elevated courts.
The Great Depression almost caused the demise of the club. All but one member of the staff was dismissed and the polo ponies were sold. Membership waned but the club survived, thanks to Dayton industrialist Col. Edward Deeds, who owned the land, and leased it to the club for $1 a year during the turbulent times.
Later that decade the club reorganized and in 1938 incorporated into the Miami Valley Hunt and Polo Club. Membership increased when servicemen from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base found the low membership fees for the military inviting.
Col. Deeds sold the property to the club in the early 1950s. Over the next decade members remodeled the clubhouse, added a paddle tennis court and rebuilt the swimming pool.
Today the club remains a sanctuary for local families. David White, current club president and a member for 7 years, was skeptical when his wife first mentioned their family should join but he soon came to appreciate the 22 acres of land hidden behind 36 towering pine trees in Miami Twp. “We come here because of the tranquility. You feel like you are secluded and on vacation,” he says.
The club lost membership after the Great Recession and now has only 20 families with full-time memberships. During its hey day in the 1980s, 125 family held memberships. The club can no longer afford the yearly fireworks display and is behind on the taxes.
White is searching for a champion to help preserve the historic hideaway for local families.
“It has an amazing history and I hate to see it disappear,” he says. “It’s the type of place where parents can sit by the pool and the kids can run and play and jump on the furniture while soaking wet and nobody cares.”
“The only rules are take care of it and clean up after you’re done,” White says. “You can plan on coming out for just a few hours and end up spending the entire day with friends.”