Frederick Wainwright Perkins (1866-1928) was a prominent Chicago architect engaged in active practice from 1886 to 1924. Perkins designed many residences and buildings, mostly in the Chicago area but also in Duluth, Minn. (where he had an office) and in downstate Illinois.
Born and schooled in Burlington, Wis., Perkins was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He married Yolande Vandeveer, daughter of a banking family in Taylorville (Christian County), Ill. His papers include materials on his wife's farm land in southern Illinois, his investments in a coffee ranch in Mexico, and his participation in the American Institute of Architects and other professional organizations, but the collection primarily consists of sketches, working drawings, and blueprints of his architectural projects as well as correspondence with clients, contractors, and others.
Perkins was a highly successful architect in his day, although he is not well known among architectural historians today. If mentioned at all, they tend to think of Dwight H. Perkins, no relation, a founder of the present-day firm of Perkins and Will. This can be explained in part by the stylistic diversity of Frederick Wainwright Perkins, who first favored Shingle style and Queen Anne designs and then deferred to his clients' preferences for Jacobean, Tudor, Mediterranean, Colonial, and other revival styles..
Attached to this summary of the collection are lists of Perkins' commissions (alphabetically arranged by the clients' names) and of the location of those commissions. The material mainly falls into three categories: The sketches are free-hand illustrations done in the early stages of a commission. Generally they lack dates, numbers, or specific technical data. Working drawings are more formal and precise, usually executed by draftsmen following Perkins' instructions. Working drawings usually include technical data, drawing numbers, and dates. Once the final design was reached, a permanent version of the working drawing was reproduced on linen, which provided a sturdy template from which multiple blueprints could be made. It is important to note, however, that few commissions are fully documented in this way, and several buildings that are known to have been designed by Perkins are not documented at all.
Accompanying many commissions are Perkins' letters and contracts with his clients and with contractors and engineering consultants. The collection also includes a few watercolor presentation drawings by Perkins made to secure commissions, some of which he submitted in architectural competitions. In addition, many of his projects were photographed. The materials vary by size and nature, and are thus arranged in different ways, in archival files, portfolios, and flat storage. Many photographs, not being identified, are filed separately.
In addition to materials relating to the specific commissions which are inventoried here, the collection includes materials from Perkins' day-to-day business, his general correspondence, brochures on building materials, and bills and receipts from both the Chicago and Duluth offices.
Personal materials in the collection include obituaries, correspondence, financial records, and papers related to social clubs, and the estate of Perkins' father-in-law, Eugene Vandeveer. Files concerning Perkins' farms and Mexican ranch consist of correspondence with farm managers and discussions of farm machinery (while not often on site, Perkins was keenly interested in how his investments were managed). Correspondence with Perkins' brother Robert, who oversaw operations in Mexico, also discusses the political and economic conditions of Mexico in the early twentieth century.
After 1924, Perkins retired from active practice and spent considerable time travelling in Europe with his wife. They collected numerous post cards of European architectural examples as well as general tourist photographs. The collection also includes a portrait of Perkins and his architect's license of 1897, when the requirement was initiated.
With the encouragement of Paul Kruty and Jane Block of the University of Illinois, Yolande Oglesby, Perkins' daughter, of Morrisonville, Ill., donated the collection to the Illinois Historical Survey in 1997.