September 1995

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Coates Kinney

of Kinney's Corners


Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.

The region around Keuka Lake has produced a number of native sons and daughters who have had distinguished careers in other parts of the country but were not forgotten in the land of their birth. One such person is Coates Kinney, although his name may not be familiar even to the local people who pass the monument in his memory, located on a triangle of land in front of the Merry-Go-Round convenience store at Kinney's Corners about half way between Penn Yan and Branchport.

The monument is a granite boulder with a bronze plaque that reads:

1827 - 1904

Coates Kinney was born on November 24, 1826, at Kinney's Corners, Yates County, and named after his grandfather, Stephen, and his father, Giles Kinney, who ran a tavern there. Although he left New York State for Ohio with his family in 1840 at the age of fourteen and never returned to live in Yates County, his boyhood years near Keuka Lake provided material for many of the poems for which he became well known.

In Ohio he studied and became a one-room country school teacher for a while; then read law and was admitted to the Ohio bar. He always wanted to be a writer and achieved sudden fame in 1849 with the publication of what became his most famous poem, "Rain on the Roof." Today the poem is most noteworthy as an example of popular verse of the period, but for the rest of his life he was known as the author of this poem.

Rain on the Roof

by Coates Kinney
When the humid shadows hover
Over all the starry spheres
And the melancholy darkness
Gently weeps in rainy tears,
What a bliss to press the pillow
Of a cottage-chamber bed
And lie listening to the patter
Of the soft rain overhead!
Every tinkle on the shingles
Has an echo in the heart;
And a thousand dreamy fancies
Into busy being start,
And a thousand recollections
Weave their air-threads into woof,
As I listen to the patter
Of the rain upon the roof.
Now in memory comes my mother,
As she used in years agone,
To regard the darling dreamers
Ere she left them till the dawn:
O! I feel her fond look on me
As I list to this refrain
Which is played upon the shingles
By the patter of the rain.
Then my little seraph-sister,
With the wings and waving hair,
And her star-eyed cherub-brother —
A serene angelic pair —
Glide around my wakeful pillow,
With their praise or mild reproof,
As I listen to the murmur
Of the soft rain on the roof.
And another comes, to thrill me
With her eyes' delicious blue;
And I mind not, musing on her,
That her heart was all untrue:
I remember but to love her
With a passion kin to pain,
And my heart's quick pulses quiver
To the patter of the rain.
Art hath naught of tone or cadence
That can work with such a spell
In the soul's mysterious fountains,
Whence the tears of rapture well,
As that melody of Nature,
That subdued, subduing strain
Which is played upon the shingles
By the patter of the rain.

From Selected Poems of Coates Kinney (1927).

Kinney was a lawyer in Cincinnati when the Civil War broke out. He served in the army for four years rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war he edited a succession of newspapers in Ohio and became active in Republican politics. According to The National Cyclopedia of American Biography (1892), "His attainments as a classic student, critic, and thinker, exhibited by his strong, clear writing in prose, his eloquent speeches, and his brilliant conversations, give him a high position among American scholars, writers and orators. But his reputation rests mainly upon his extraordinary originality as a poet."

His fame howerer, did not last long after his death in Xenia, Ohio, in 1904. His poetry never had the esteem of that of James Whitcomb Riley, another Middle Westerner, whose poems used homey themes similar to those of Kinney. His life was not chronicled in the prestigious Dictionary of American Biography, nor did his obituary appear in the New York Times. He was not forgotten in Yates County, however, and in 1927, twenty-three years after his death, the monument to his memory was erected at Kinney's Corners.

Although no official sign or map identifies the hamlet as Kinney's Corners, it is known by that name to everyone who lives there or nearby. A post office, with the official name of Bluff Point, established in 1850, was closed in January, 1983. Kinney's Corners was a stop on the electric trolley line that ran from Penn Yan to Branchport. The largest buildings today are the Methodist church, founded in 1832, and the small store. Still for those who take the trouble to notice there is the monument to native son, Coates Kinney, and for those who look further there is a handsome portrait at the Yates County Historical Society painted by Philip W. Prugh.

© 1995, Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.
Index to articles by Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.
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