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Summer polo returns to Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora

A charity polo match and a resolution of sorts unfold Saturday at the East Aurora field where the Knox family once rode polo ponies and played all week long.

The special event marks the second summer in a row that members of the Knox family and friends have revived polo with a VIP brunch, picnicking and a 1 p.m. game at the Chur Equestrian Center on Knox Road at Knox Farm State Park.

Last July’s inaugural “Knox Memorial Cup” event was put on by a polo committee, a splinter faction of the Friends of Knox Farm board. This year the group is its own, official nonprofit: The Stables at Knox Inc.,

“We’re really more on a separate, parallel track,” said John Hatcher, one of the former Friends board members now leading the Stables at Knox.

“Our group really focuses on ... preservation, the legacy the Knox family had in the equestrian world,” he said. “We want to be philanthropic and partner up with other 501c3s that have more of a human-interest component.”

Conflicts about leadership style at the Friends nonprofit, which manages the park’s mansion and grounds, led to a court review of process.

Supreme Court Justice Henry Nowak ruled against the family faction. The opposition took over. Some members resigned, including former president and board founder Seymour Knox IV. He is the new president of the Stables at Knox.

“That park has 23 buildings in a state of disrepair. They need more than one group,” said Betsy Wallace, former Friends vice president now in charge of communications for the Stables at Knox. “We would like to find a grant writer to help us.”

The sprawling park, with trails and an off-leash dog corral, became a beloved local destination in the 15 years since the Knox family sold its former summer estate with 633 acres, a mansion, a stable, greenhouses and assorted buildings to the state for $5.2 million.

Its legacy includes the first Seymour Knox, who made a fortune after founding the Woolworth’s department store chain with his cousins. At the turn of the last century, when the village was known for its horse farms, Knox bought land as a retreat away from Buffalo and to keep race horses.

The Stables at Knox, incorporated this year with about 14 members, intends to pay tribute to the Knox history in the 1927 stable. It has stalls, second-floor apartments where staff once lived, and a wood-paneled tack room with fireplace and horse name plates on the walls.

“It’s my favorite building,” said Wallace. “It’s romantic in a way. It has a lot to do with the history of the family, the competitiveness of the family.

“We really want to have it be a community event, not just for the people that go to the champagne brunch,” said Wallace. “You can bring your tent and your chairs and your car. It’s the traditional way polo matches were. People would tailgate.”

Last year’s Memorial Cup, played in a drizzling rain, raised about $25,000 for the park and a children’s cancer charity. This year, money raised selling $10 parking and the $75 brunch before the free game will go toward the stables and the Heritage Centers for people with disabilities.