Historical stuff -- 09/08/10

You have probably read some of my postings over the years about local historic buildings such as the Narragansett Towers and Kinney Bungalow. (I think those were among my earliest posts about those two sites, although I have mentioned them numerous times since then. And I still do the Kinney Bungalow web site.)

Francis S. Kinney has always been someone who has fascinated me. He grew up in a fairly well-to-do family but went off to sea on clipper ships while a teenager, travelled around the world, got involved with railroads in South America, was an explorer, etc., and then returned to the United States and went into the tobacco business. He formed Kinney Brothers Tobacco with his brother Abbott Kinney (who, by the way, was a fascinating character in his own right, went off to Europe at 16, became fluent in six languages, came back to the U.S. and ended up on a geological survey team mapping the Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas, travelled the world purchasing tobacco, ended up in California where he attempted to build a "Venice in America" at Ocean Park, wanted to create a cultural center but then realized that wasn't what people wanted so he created a "Coney Island of the West" and got Ocean Park to change its name to Venice). Their company came to dominate the American market for manufactured cigarettes (their Sweet Caporal brand was the top selling brand) and then they sold their company to the Duke family interests -- the American Tobacco Trust. The Kinney brothers went from being rich to being rich beyond dreams.

I've told how Francis Kinney built a mansion in Narragansett and acquired a farm for raising his polo ponies, and then built Kinney Bungalow on the farm (possibly to host a ball in honor of his daughter or to host post-polo match banquets -- because he may have been annoyed at the Point Judith Country Club -- all of which is mere gossip and speculation about events of more than 110 years ago.

It turns out that Kinney also had extensive land holdings in New Jersey and last night we had someone from the historical society in Kinnelon, New Jersey (yes, the town named itself after Kinney's vast New Jersey estate) speak to us last night at a gathering at Kinney Bungalow. Kinney purchased a total of five thousand acres of land, forming an estate that was five miles long from north to south and three and a half miles wide at its widest point. He had a chapel build on an island in a lake on his property and had Tiffany & Co do the interior decoration of the chapel. He built a mansion (and he called it a "cottage" just like the huge and opulent "cottages" in Newport, RI) but then over the years kept expanding on it again and again until it stood four stories high with thirteen chimneys and eighty rooms. At one point his New Jersey estate required a total of one hundred employees.

As I said, we didn't know about his New Jersey holdings other than that he had bought a lot of land there. We had known nothing about the extent of his holdings and the many buildings (chapel, mansion, solarium, carriage house, a dairy barn, a fire house, etc. -- even a tower eighty feet high with a crenellated observation post on top with a view of the Manhattan skyline almost thirty miles away) he had had constructed there. A local historian had done some research on Kinney and found that he had seemed to have had some kind of falling out with his youngest son who went off to sea (or was sent off) at about the same age that Francis had run off to sea, but we knew very little about what had happened to his family after his death in 1908. I had done some Internet research a couple of years ago and found his grandson (and namesake) was a noted yacht designer and author of books about yachts. Our speaker last night let us know about Kinney's offspring. Joel, missing somewhere in California, received a bequest of $50,000 on condition that he not challenge the will (if he did, he would get nothing). Morris and Warren each received $750,000, considerable sums of money in 1908. Beatrice received the balance of the estate (estimated to be in the twelve to fifteen million dollar range -- perhaps the equivalent of one hundred and fifty million of today's dollars, except there was no income tax. Beatrice married but was childless. Warren married and had children (including his son, Francis S. Kinney). Morris never married and never had children. He passed his portion of Kinnelon to his close friend who, unable to afford the cost of maintaining such an estate, came up with the concept of subdividing it for housing, up scale housing, no two houses allowed to be the same, named it Smoke Rise, a gated community in Kinnelon, New Jersey. Almost half of the former Kinnelon estate is a nature preserve.

Yes, I do get rather fascinated by these historical stories...

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