Date: Thursday, January 28, 2021
Take a journey to 1992, a heady year with change in the air. The Winter and Summer Olympics loomed large, (it would be the last time both games were held in the same year), silicon valley giants were rolling out revolutionary technological changes as the 'world wide web' (aka the internet) prepared to go public, social unrest reached a new peak in the US, the cold war was officially declared over, the EU opened its horizons to the rest of the continent, pop artists were wearing clothes backwards, and US presidential power was about to change sides. Thus was the year that ushered in the Newport International Polo Series.
As the calendar turned to January of 1992, Dan Keating was immersed in the restoration of Glen Farm, a project that he began 13 months prior, in late 1990 with a 10-year lease at age 26 to realize his vision of returning international polo to its American birthplace.
In the forested solitude of winter, deep in the hollow of the glen, where Henry A.C. Taylor’s life work had been nearly extinguished by neglect and abandonment in the century since his death, a hum of purpose returned to Taylor’s beloved Glen Farm.
Evening lights were glimmering again from the riding arena, where a local cadre of polo novices pursued a new sporting opportunity, and slumbering horses murmured in the stables, while boughs of age-old wood whispered against the cold night sky.
First light each day set off squeaky wheelbarrows and the chime of old pipes, joined by the clicking of eager hooves on cobbled floors as jumpers and polo ponies were turned out, followed by a percussion of hammers, drills, saws and heavy machinery engaged in the restoration of the stable complex to its former luster, barn by barn, for its grand reopening and new era with the inaugural season of the Newport International Polo Series a mere 6 months away.
The Town of Portsmouth, who acquired Glen Farm’s last 92 acres and decrepit barn complex in 1989, needed the expertise and investment of an experienced rehabilitator to restore the property. Keating’s search for a location to create an international polo venue brought them together, and with a leap of faith he accepted the Town’s terms to restore the property. The undertaking would consume all of Keating’s knowhow and nest egg from his previous 6 years of rehabbing in South Boston during the 80’s real estate boom.
And so it began, without a pane of glass in place nor a door on its hinges throughout the boarded-up, vandalized property. The Main barn’s stall doors with their heavy brass hardware had been pried off and stolen. Keating's attention to detail included solid brass hardware recast to match original pieces throughout the barns & stables. Each severely derelict building needed entirely new mechanical systems including plumbing, electrical, and heating. In addition, Keating added a hard-wired state-of-the-art fire alarm network and made wholesale repairs to the structures’ exteriors and interiors, while also improving the grounds with the addition of soil and water conservation projects, the paddock system for horse turnout, and the polo field in the former jumping derby site.
The 1910 Bull Barn was the first to be restored and converted to a 10-stall co-op barn for horses, followed by the 1911 Main Barn with its 18 horse stalls and living quarters above. Then came the shingled Heifer Barn, converted to 14 horse stalls to become today’s Polo Barn, and last was the 1907 Dairy Barn, also converted to 13 horse stalls, offices, and living quarters above. Keating’s renovations also included restoring a deteriorating indoor riding arena into a multi-discipline equestrian ring. These improvements cost Keating over one half million dollars in capital investment, on top of the expenses of regular maintenance and rent, to create a thriving equestrian operation and home of the Newport International Polo Series.
Like Taylor, Glen Farm would be the foundation of Keating’s life work. In its heyday, Taylor’s gentlemen’s farm was the pride of Portsmouth, nationally reputed for blue ribbon livestock and farming innovations, superior architecture by masters of the Gilded Age, and meticulously maintained with a standard of excellence, as a pinnacle in the storied past of the Town's historic glen, a hub in the community since colonial times. Keating’s chapter has put Glen Farm back on the map with millions of visitors, as families, friends and polo players have returned each year for generations, reviving the sport of polo in its American landing by reinstating the original polo club along with a polo school and the world’s only continuous forum for international polo, where 35 nations have sparred to date, while supporting the community with more than $1.5 million raised for charitable causes.
Time Machine is a 30th Anniversary retrospective series. We hope you enjoyed the trip in time. To read additional Time Machine chapters, visit Headlines.