HISTORY OF OAK BROOK POLO
Michael Butler grew up playing polo in Oak Brook and around the world. As Michael recalled those days where Kings really did play on the Oak Brook Polo Fields, he reminisced, “Nothing has had such an influence on my life than the sport of polo.”
The history of how Oak Brook and the game of kings became synonymous started with a small paper mill built on the Fox River in St. Charles. Julius Wales Butler moved from the east coast to Illinois and became partners with Oliver Morris to create the prosperous, JW Butler Paper Company. When traveling from St. Charles to Chicago, the village of Hinsdale became a convenient stopping place.
Frank Osgood Butler, Julius’s son, eventually operated the Paper Company. He settled in Hinsdale and began to acquire quite a bit of property north of Hinsdale. The property was used for the cattle business to fatten up the cows before going down to the stockyards. FO, as he was known, became considerably involved in cattle and horse ranching in South Dakota and Montana. FO played polo with his cowboys on the infield of the racetrack, which he owned in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Polo became such a passion with him that he built the first polo ground in the Chicago area.
The tradition and addiction to polo was passed on to Paul Butler, Michael’s father. In 1922, Paul formed the Oak Brook Polo Club and built four more polo grounds and more stables with stalls for about 60 horses. On the grounds was a small clubhouse, known as Polo House.
In those days, polo was dominated by the east coast establishment mostly around Meadowbrook in Long Island near Westbury. Michael remembered going with his father to watch him play at Meadowbrook.
Paul Butler became more involved with the paper company and, as the cattle business dwindled, the property north of Hinsdale was no longer used for cattle. Paul and his family moved to the farm manager’s house, where Michael, his brother Frank and sister, Jorie grew up.
The property was now known as Oak Brook and consisted of several thousand acres and approximately 16 farms. Paul Butler rented the farms to his friends, mostly polo players, for an incredibly small amount of money. This helped to establish a social and sporting scene for the area. Other activities such as foxhunting, shooting sports, golf and tennis were slowly added.
Paul became more interested in developing the property; however, his task was to find something of interest to attract people to Oak Brook. At this particular time, Meadowbrook was sold to a developer and the USPA was looking for a place to host national polo tournaments. Butler proposed to build a polo plant in Oak Brook, which would have a great advantage by being in the middle of the country instead of on one of the coasts.
The result of his efforts was the creation of 13 Polo grounds, stables for 400 horses and a horse showground. Two Polo grounds were joined to allow for an airstrip where the prop planes of those days could land. And land, they did…royalty, dignitaries and celebrities were all attracted to Oak Brook and Polo.
Hosting the USPA tournaments provided the ambience in Oak Brook that something special was happening and created the appeal to live the good life that Oak Brook offered. Polo was the social sporting scene, which attracted many people. It was a brilliant approach and can lay claim that Polo created Oak Brook.
Jorie and Michael Butler managed the Polo Club for many years. The Oak Brook Polo Club was the largest polo plant in the world at that time. Yes, Kings, Queens and celebrities all were drawn to Oak Brook Polo. Prince Charles, Cecil Smith, Maharaja and Maharanee of Jaipur, Lord Cowdray, Major Ronald Ferguson, Lord Patrick Beresford, Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Gov. Kerner, King Hussein, and countless others enjoyed beautiful afternoons of polo.
The tradition continues in Oak Brook. One can truly say that polo created Oak Brook.