Born in 1861 in Perth Amboy, NJ, Brinley graduated from Columbia University School of Mines in 1884 with a degree in civil engineering. After graduation, Brinley worked for several years as engineer for the Town of Morristown, NJ. In 1885, Brinley received his first commission as a landscape architect, eventually building a practice in Morristown around commissions for the nearby Country Place era estates.
Taking on small jobs eschewed by other landscape architects, Brinley built his connections, and in 1890, Brinley was engaged by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. to complete the surveying of “Florham”, the country estate of Hamilton and Florence Vanderbilt Twombly, surviving today as the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. Brinley also collaborated with the Olmsted firm (Olmsted, Olmsted Eliot) in 1896 on Cedar Court, the Otto Kahn residence in Bernardsville, NJ.
In 1901, Brinley and John Swift Holbrook formed the partnership of Brinley and Holbrook, landscape engineers and architects, with offices in Morristown and New York City. Holbrook discontinued his connection with the firm in 1906, but the firm kept his name. Over the next forty years, Brinley designed landscape plans for dozens of estates, primarily in northern New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, often worked for larger, more notable offices, such as the Olmsted firm. Brinley also created landscape designs for parks, schools, hospitals, prisons, asylums, churches, golf clubs, playgrounds, cemeteries, offices, and government buildings throughout New Jersey. Brinley’s most notable commission was for the first survey and General Plan for the New York Botanical Garden, eventually taking over the entire project after Calvert Vaux’s death in 1895.
In 1908, Brinley was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects.