Polo at Raemelton Farm: 1934

In the night of May 24, 1932, the horse stables at Raemelton Farm burned to the ground. Oddly, even though the flames raised a brilliant towering conflagration that brought dozens of neighbors out in the early morning, there was very minimal news coverage of the spectacular blaze.

They wanted to keep it quiet. It was agreed that this barn fire wasn’t an accident—it was a message.

For Frank Black—master of the Raemelton estate—the message would not have been clearer if it came by telegram.  It said, ‘the disastrous American economy has made life a bitter struggle for many people in this town, yet your blue-blood ponies eat better than many kids.”

Both Frank and the publisher of The Mansfield News understood the volatile moment of history they were living through, and recognized the perilous crossroads at which American society was standing. 

It was important that this barn burning not be seen as the opening salvo of a class war.

As a critical year in the Great Depression, 1932 saw an agonizing collision between supply and demand; between labor and management: and Frank Black stood at the helm of the Ohio Brass Company, which employed over a thousand Mansfielders. 

He was undoubtedly the richest man in town.  It made him a target as lines grew longer at the soup kitchen.

To anyone with a more benevolent perspective, it meant he had the most to work with in strengthening the city.  Frank Black spearheaded the very public campaign to build a state-of-the-art hospital in Mansfield; and he was, at the same time, quietly feeding resources into a dozen startups that could hire more people—more factories, more banks, more restaurants and stores.

It was his goal, as well, to raise the bar of culture in Mansfield, which is why he built a classic riding hall on his Raemelton estate: so he could sponsor fancy-dress horse shows and flower expositions.  It brought the Governor and his crowd to town: strutting their saddlebred champions around the arena.

Frank knew what it cost the people of Mansfield to attend these classy cultural events: it cost them nothing.  

It cost him plenty.

And that’s why, after someone set his barn on fire, he began immediately to rebuild; and then went out and bought a string of expensive polo ponies so Mansfield would be a city where anyone could witness the Sport of Kings.

Frank B. Black (1865-1937) at Raemelton Farm.
Plans had been drawn for Raemelton House in the late 1920s before the economy crashed, and once the Great Depression took hold Frank was cautioned to delay construction until a time safely after everybody stopped feeling like the world was ending. After long consideration, however, he decided that building his home was the best promise he could make to the future, and, in the process, put dozens of carpenters and stonemasons to work. Photo taken in 1931 by Robert Black.
The Frank Black family moved into Raemelton House in 1932.
Frank Black’s equestrian center included a complex of barns and stables appended onto 19th century farm buildings already standing when he bought the Marion Avenue property in 1910. He is seen here third from the left, standing in front of his champion show horse Quaker Lady.
This photo of the Raemelton saddle horse stables was taken after the building was rebuilt in 1932.

Polo

Polo itself derived in ancient times from horseback warfare: in America, it derived from wealth and privilege.  To have a stable of polo ponies in the 20thcentury required great means; and to have a team of riders required a generous allowance of free time.

If there ever was royalty in Mansfield in the 20thcentury, it was the second generation of Ohio Brass.  Raised as the scions of industrial magnates, these boy princes were all born just after 1900, sent away to school in the east, and came of age in the wildly prosperous 1920s.  By the 1930s, they were fully fledged, and ready to take the reins of power.

Of the eight or nine horsemen who rode Raemelton polo ponies in the ‘30s, most were related in some way to Frank Black, or worked for him.

The Raemelton teams played ‘arena style’ polo—devised for smaller fields and three horsemen.  For several years they performed a formal winter schedule in the heated riding hall, followed by random summer games outdoors on the polo field next to Trimble Road.

Technically, the riding arena was not quite large enough for regulation play, but no one complained—especially during matches played on cold winter days.

Their competition came from around Ohio: teams from Akron sponsored by Harvey Firestone; a couple US Cavalry teams—Troop A and Troop B—from the Armory in Cleveland; and college teams like the ‘men in purple’ from Kenyon College.  And when there was no one to challenge the Raemelton boys, they simply divided up into different colored shirts and put on shows for Mansfield’s growing crowd of polo fans.

The young team in 1934: William Weldon (1904-1994), Donald Black (1904-1958) & Louie Ott (1906-1983).
The paneled observation lounge built in 1930, overlooking Raemelton’s riding hall, was the site of Sunday tea for years before the polo days began.
News photo from Cleveland of the Raemelton team in competition with Troop B of the Cleveland Cavalry.

Seriously

Within a couple years of taking the field, the Raemelton team was dashingly competent and competing at a wildly exciting level.  Anyone who watched their matches definitely got their money’s worth in entertainment, and people didn’t even have to pay to get in.  The only folks in attendance who weren’t having fun were the horsemen’s wives, who cringed at every thundering high-speed convergence of ponies, mallets, helmets and clamor.

The matches were often scheduled after flower shows, and always before tea. Accordingly, the polo men found themselves on the society page with the garden club news. They begged the News staff to print their scores on the Sports page. 

But to reporters who frequented the Fourth Street Armory covering boxing matches, the polo boys seemed somewhat dilettante and too culturally elevated to be considered true virile athletes.  So, one day Louie Ott and Donald Black dragged their incapacitated teammate into the News offices to show them his broken leg.

The White Team in 1936: James Hardin, the Raemelton trainer and only player to suffer broken bones; Louis Ott, who ultimately became President of the Ohio Brass Company; and William Weldon, who was the OB general office manager for 35 years.
The Blue Team in 1936: Ted Lusignan, who became a Vice-President of Ohio Brass; George Draffan, who became Chairman of the Board at Ohio Brass; and Spencer Draffan, owner of The Book Shop on Walnut Street for 40 years.
Raemelton in white vs. Kenyon College in purple, playing on the Raemelton polo field in 1935. Spectators pulled their cars into the grass off Trimble Road, with a nice day bringing as many as 600 fans.

The Field of Polo

The dreaded class war of the Depression Era never materialized, thankfully, but it was not without its further skirmishes at Raemelton.  The stables burned again five years later, and this time it proved to be such a dramatic event that Frank couldn’t keep it under his hat.  He did, however, talk the paper into reporting it as an agricultural mishap—spontaneous combustion of too-green hay—instead of an act of anarchist sabotage. 

There was no question about the fire’s origin, however, to the farm hands at Raemelton, because it followed only months after someone snuck in at night to cut the tails off of all the expensive show horses.

The stables rose from the ashes once again, recreated in such perfect reproduction of the two previous iterations it looked as if time at Raemelton was impervious to change.

Change did catch up with the place later that year though: in late 1937 Frank Black died suddenly.  Without his passionate love of horses driving the farm, the Raemelton polo team lost momentum, and trotted off into the history books.

In 1940, there was a drum and bugle corps practicing their drills in the Raemelton polo field, and by 1944, it had been plowed up altogether and planted in a wartime Victory Garden.

The stables at Raemelton today are rebuilt as to be virtually identical to the originals adapted in the 1910s from barns built in the 1800s. While the shape of the building matches old photos, the only discernible difference is the cupola and the weather vane on top.

Generations

Not long after Frank Black left the earth, the nation underwent a major transition as WWII abruptly changed the world.  The halcyon days of polo matches, and the lovely atmosphere of saddle horse shows and floral expositions, seemed to fade away like a dream with the passing of the 1930s.

That shining era of horses had become deeply embedded into the soul of Raemelton however, in a way that could not be discouraged.  It took about 60 years to reawaken, but the equine spirit rose once again in a new and life-giving form when the old Riding Academy was repurposed in 1995 as the Raemelton Therapeutic Equestrian Center.

These two photos in the Raemelton riding hall are taken from nearly the same spot: 1933 Garden Club flower exposition; and 2010 Raemelton Therapeutic Equestrian Center activity, photographed by Jeff Sprang.
Frank Black’s enthusiasm for equestrian sports and showmanship grew out of his love affair with one particular horse who became well known around the state and ever associated with him–Quaker Lady.

“Quaker Lady, show horse of the Raemelton stables, and personal mount of the owner, Frank B. Black, known for her perfect manners and show qualities, was a registered Kentucky bred horse of unusual beauty. Among authoritative judges of horse flesh, Quaker Lady was rated the finest three-gaited, 15 hand horse in Ohio.” (from The Mansfield News obituary 1934.)
The grave memorial of Quaker Lady stands on a hill behind Raemelton’s riding hall.


These photos are from the albums of John Baxter Black (1924-2014); the attic of Margery Ott Schuster; the collection of Raemelton Therapeutic Equestrian Center; and the archives of Kingwood Center Gardens.

Thank you!



2 comments

  1. Thank You for your timely articles about Mansfield. I grew up in Copley, OH and the West side of Akron and Barberton. My grandparents had a farm on Washington North Road, whom I visited for many,many years.

    My wife Elaine’s father own Haring’s Jewelry store in Mansfield. Please, continue sharing your many articles.

    May you have a great day ! Elaine and Dave

    Like

  2. Dave,

    Thanks for sending me this article.

    I can tell you many stories about my adventures on the Black estate.
    They were on my paper route and big tippers at Christmas time.

    Good news about Elaine’s progress.

    Aloha,

    Paul Haring

    Like

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