Thursday, February 13, 2014

Clesson Selwyne Kinney (1859-1913)

 
From The Irrigation Age, Volume 17, published in 1902.

    A distinguished figure in Utah legal circles during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Clesson Selwyne Kinney also served one term in the Utah State House of Representatives, representing the county of Salt Lake beginning in 1905. Both before and after his time on the political stage Kinney maintained an avowed interest in a rather unusual non-political subject, irrigation and water rights. Viewed by many of his contemporaries as a true scholar on the history of irrigation in both ancient and modern times, Kinney authored many irrigation-related articles in agricultural periodicals of his time, and is honored today as the newest biography to be added to the site.
    Born and raised in Ohio, Clesson Selwyne Kinney's birth occurred in the town of East Townsend on December 5, 1859, a son of Edwin and Elizabeth Godden Kinney. His education began in the Huron County school system and as a young adult studied at both the Dennison University and Oberlin Colleges. After spending a four year period (1877-1881) in the employ of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad Company he enrolled at the University of Michigan and graduated in the class of 1887, having earned his bachelor of arts degree. Following his graduation Kinney spent several months teaching 
mathematics at a high school in Leavenworth, Kansas and later decided upon a career in law, being admitted to the Kansas bar in 1888. He married in Chicago, Illinois in December of 1889 to Antoinette Brown (ca. 1862-1946), with whom he would have one son, Selwyne Perez Kinney (1890-1976), later to become notable as an engineer and inventor. 
   Removing to Salt Lake City, Utah soon after his marriage, Kinney established a law office in that city and over the succeeding decades would devote himself not only to the practice of law, but to the "law of irrigation and water rights." Kinney became interested in the study of irrigation shortly after settling in the arid climate of Utah, and after years of study developed a reputation as one of the nation's foremost experts on water rights and irrigation properties. 
    Not content to just specialize in water rights as an attorney, Kinney also authored a four-volume masterwork on irrigation and water management, "Kinney on Irrigation and Water Rights", first published in 1894. Kinney's work gained him wide praise and it became "a standard, and is cited as an authority in all the courts of the West, and also the U.S. Supreme Circuit and district courts." He also authored numerous articles related to this subject for the Irrigation Age illustrated journal between 1896 and 1912, and in 1903 completed "Kinney's Digest of the Utah Reports" an extensive index for the twenty-six volume law reports of the Utah State Supreme Court. Active in the Utah State Bar Association for many years, Kinney served as the Secretary of that organization beginning in 1894.
  Kinney took no part in politics until November of 1904, when he was elected as a Republican to the Utah State House of Representatives. Taking office in January of 1905, Kinney served as the chairman of three house committees during his one term, those being the Judiciary, the St. Louis Purchase Exposition Commission, and the committee on Rules. 

From the Irrigation Age, Volume IX, published 1896.

   After the conclusion of his term in 1907 Kinney returned to his law practice and continued to write, beginning work on the second edition of "Kinney on Water Rights and Irrigation" which was eventually published in late 1912. His later years were marked by his memberships in the Knights Templars and Shriners lodges, while also serving as Masonic Grand Master. In October of 1912 Kinney was a featured speaker at the National Irrigation Congress, where he would give his last public address. 
   Burdened by years of overwork writing and revising his manuscripts, Kinney left Utah in December 1912 out of concerns for his health, vacationing in Honolulu, Hawaii. He spent the first two months of 1913 here and on February 17th died at age 53, being felled by illness at a dinner that was being given in his honor at the home of a local judge in Honolulu. After being cremated, Kinney's ashes were brought home to Salt Lake City by his wife Antoinette, and following her death in 1946 was buried along with her husband at the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in that city.

From the Salt Lake Tribune, February 19, 1913.

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