Sunday, October 20, 2013

Thorndyke Corning McKennee (1857-1924)

 From the History of the Rockaways, 1917.

    A lifelong resident of New York state, Thorndyke Corning McKennee rose to become a prominent fixture in civic and political affairs on Long Island, serving as a delegate to the Republican National Convention of 1920, an Assistant District Attorney of Queens County and Commissioner of Jurors for Queens County. Born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on May 4, 1857, Thorndyke C. McKennee was the son of U.S. Navy Captain Henry Guilford McKennee and his wife Caroline Mary Wilder. His education commenced at the Public School No. 58 in Manhattan and later went on to study at the College of the City of New York. In 1881 he earned his bachelor of laws degree from the Columbia University's Law School, and after graduating took on a position as a Court of Appeals reporter in the law office of Emerson W. Keyes.
   McKennee remained in the Keyes law office until joining up with Gen. Horatio Collins King, a distinguished lawyer, politician and Medal of Honor winner during the Civil War. McKennee clerked in Brooklyn for King until establishing his own law practice, and around 1890  married in Brooklyn to Sarah Guilford Stone (1857-1893) with whom he had two children, Corning Guilford (1891-1967) and Sarah Stone (ca. 1893-1915). Sarah Guilford Stone McKennee died in November 1893 at age 34 and Thorndyke never remarried following her death. His obituary in the Rockaway Beach Wave notes that in regards to his children "he brought them up himself, almost from infancy", and in the mid 1890s began to dabble in real estate in Brooklyn, later specializing in "residential property".
   In 1900 McKennee and his children removed from Brooklyn to Rockaway Beach, Queens, where he would reside for the remainder of his life. Located on the south shore of Long Island, Rockaway Beach during the early 20th century was a haven for Irish-American citizens and was given the moniker of "New York's Playground" due to its wealthy residents, amusement parks and resort hotels. Within a few years of his arrival McKennee had become one of Rockaway Beach's foremost leaders in civic affairs, serving as President the Rockaway Beach Board of Trade for a number of years. McKennee is also noted as having been a booster for improvements to Rockaway Beach infrastructure, actively pressing for the betterment of the Jamaica Bay Causeway, the Beach Channel Drive and the Rockaway Beach boardwalk.


   While attentive to the advancement of Rockaway Beach as a community, Thorndyke McKennee was active in Republican Party circles in the area, being named as the Assistant District Attorney for Queens County in 1907. A year following his appointment he advanced to the post of First Assistant Attorney, and in 1909 made an unsuccessful candidacy for Municipal Court Justice for Queens' 3rd district. Three years following his defeat for Municipal judge McKennee received the high profile appointment as Commissioner of Jurors for Queens County in October 1912, succeeding Commissioner George Creed who had died some weeks previously. McKennee was renamed as Commissioner in December 1914 for a term of five years. His tenure in this office is highlighted by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as having been one of marked success, with McKennee having "introduced the plan of examining jurors at night and established other practices to make jury duty less onerous for the average citizen." 
   In the 1920 election year McKennee served as part of New York's delegation to the Republican National Convention in Chicago that nominated Warren Harding for the Presidency. Three years after his service as a delegate McKennee was the Republican candidate for judge of the newly established Rockaway Municipal Court, and in that year's election placed third in a field of three candidates. His obituary in the Rockaway Wave notes that following his defeat McKennee "maintained an outward appearance of cheerfulness, his intimate friends say that he brooded over the poor showing in the election, which, they say, had the effect of shortening his life." 
   As the year 1923 gave way to 1924, Thorndyke McKennee was still the incumbent in the office of Queens County Commissioner of Jurors. Although still attentive to political matters he was in a state of impaired health, and by April 1924 was suffering from appendicitis. A day before his death McKennee underwent an operation to eliminate the illness but died the following day, April 20, 1924 at the age of 66. Following his death a lavish outpouring of tributes came from throughout Rockaway Beach, and a lengthy funeral procession carried him to his resting place at the famed Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

From the Rockaway Beach Wave, April 24, 1924.

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 24, 1924.

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