Queene Ferry Coonley collection,
Queene Ferry Coonley (born Addie Elizabeth Ferry, 1874-1958) was a philanthropist, progressive educator, and patron of architecture who commissioned works from noted American architects Frank Lloyd Wright and William E. Drummond. Queene was also treasurer of the National Women’s Party; a trustee of Vassar College; vice president of the Progressive Education Association; member of the board of visitors of the Zion Research Library in Brookline, MA; and vice-president of board of the Madiera School in Washington DC.
Born in Detroit to garden seed magnate Dexter Ferry and his wife Addie, Queene graduated from Vassar College in 1896, and briefly pursued a career as a Kindergarten teacher until her marriage to Avery Coonley in 1901. The couple settled in Riverside, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, home to the Coonley family and their business, the Chicago Malleable Iron Company. They had one child, Elizabeth Coonley, born in 1902.
Avery Coonley (1870 – 1920) was born in Rochester, New York, and graduated from Harvard in 1894. He worked in the family business between 1895-1902, but left it to pursue his interests in education and the Christian Science Church, editing The Little Chronicle, a news magazine for children, 1902-1908. He subsequently became involved with publications and publicity for the Christian Science Church, and in 1912, the Coonleys moved to Washington, DC, for this work. Avery died there in 1920. Queene never remarried, and remained in Washington, DC until her death in 1958.
Both Avery and Queene Ferry Coonley had been born to wealthy families, possibly first meeting at the families’ respective upstate New York summer homes. They led a comfortable lifestyle, with interests in the progressive education movement, the arts, and the practice of Christian Science. Queene was a Christian Science practitioner between 1903 and 1918. In many ways their lifestyle and interests fit the mold of the typical clients of Frank Lloyd Wright during his Prairie School years, and indeed, after seeing an exhibition at the Chicago Architectural Club, Queene is said to have convinced her husband to commission a house from Wright.
The Avery Coonley House (1906-09) in Riverside, Illinois is one of the few estates that Wright developed, a prime example of his Prairie house. The complex originally included the main house, a Gardener’s Cottage (1911), garage and stables (later known as the Coach House), and extensive gardens designed by Jens Jensen. In 1912, Queene commissioned a school building from Wright, known as the Coonley Playhouse, that is also located on the general property. In the 1950s, the property was subdivided: the main house was split into two residences, and the Coach House, Gardener’s Cottage, and Playhouse also became separate residences. Jim and Carolyn Howlett purchased the Coach House in 1953. The Coonley House became a National Historic Landmark in 1970. In 2006, owners of the main portion of the Coonley House took ownership of the Coach House.
Queene Ferry Coonley founded 2 kindergartens and 3 elementary schools in Riverside and nearby communities. Her initiatives were noted by educator John Dewey. Unhappy with the public school system, Queene started a school for her daughter Elizabeth, then in 1st grade, and 4 other students. This was in an existing stone cottage on the Coonley property, represented in photographs in the collection. Lucia Morse and Charlotte Krum, from the public school’s kindergarten, taught in the afternoons at “The Cottage School.” Queene offered them the 2nd floor of the house as a place to live.
She then added a grade a year until there were 8 grades altogether. When the student body outgrew the Cottage School, she commissioned Wright to do the Playhouse. The Cottage School initiative closed in 1915, when Elizabeth was sent to the Francis Parker School for high school. As Queene Ferry Coonley’s educational initiatives grew, it is apparent that many of the buildings on the Coonley estate were utilized at various times as teacher residences, classroom space, perhaps both.
Thorncroft (1911) , 283 Scottswood Road, Riverside Illinois, was designed by William E. Drummond as a residence for the Cottage School teachers. It is a good example of Drummond’s capabilities as a Prairie School architect.
The nearby village of Brookfield asked Queene to fund their own kindergarten. She bought the land, commissioned the building and underwrote all the tuition fees. The Brookfield Kindergarten was located at 3601 Forest Avenue. Designed by William E. Drummond, it was built in 1911. Brookfield predates Wright’s Playhouse, and scholars note its Wrightian features. It is now a private residence.
In 1912, Queene established the Kindergarten Extension Association, and funded a kindergarten in nearby Downers Grove, with Lucia Morse as director. Architects for that building were Perkins, Fellow and Hamilton. At that time, her own Cottage School program was taken over by Francis Ward and Gudren Thorne-Thompson. The collection includes photographs of interiors of an unidentified kindergarten which may be the Downers Grove building.
After her husband’s death in 1920, Queene established the Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove, Illinois, in 1928. Her son-in-law, Waldron Faulkner, designed the main building for school that is still in existence today. An unidentified snapshot in the collection may be a partial view of this building. Faulkner also designed a house in Washington, DC, for Lucia Morse as a retirement gift from Queene.
American architect Frank Lloyd Wright had been in practice about ten years in Oak Park, Illinois, when the Coonleys commissioned a house from him. For years, Wright had been developing a revolutionary form of American architecture – the Prairie House – that would later bring him national and international recognition. His busy studio included numerous draftsmen, renderers, and engineers – among them William E. Drummond. In 1909, Wright abruptly closed his studio and left for a year-long sojourn in Europe, signaling the end of his work on the Prairie House concept. After his return, he accepted two additional commissions from the Coonleys: a garage for the main estate (1911), and the Playhouse (1912).
Wright suffered numerous personal and financial setbacks during the next twenty-some years. Several friends and former clients, including Queene Ferry Coonley, Alexander Woollcott, Charles MacArthur, and Darwin C. Martin, saved Wright’s estate, Taliesin, from the bank and paid off Wright’s debts in 1928. Queene received some of Wright’s Japanese prints, presumably in compensation for her investment in Frank Lloyd Wright, Inc.
William E. Drummond was among a handful of architects/designers from Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio who made significant architectural contributions of their own. Son of a carpenter/contractor who worked on Wright’s Larkin Building, Drummond studied engineering briefly at the University of Illinois, spent several months in Louis Sullivan’s office, and then joined Wright’s studio in 1899. He stayed there until 1909, except for an absence from 1901-03, and served as chief draftsman and project manager for many of Wright’s jobs. He apparently worked on the Coonley house project. When Wright left in 1909, many of his projects were completed by Jon van Bergen and William Drummond.
Drummond had his own practice between 1909–1912, designing mostly residences and churches in the Prairie style. During this time, Queene Ferry Coonley commissioned Thorncroft and the Brookfield Kindergarten from Drummond. In 1912, he went into partnership with Louis Guenzel; their firm was known as Guenzel and Drummond. Queene commissioned a Teacher’s Cottage (1913) from the firm. Drummond’s work was published in “The Western Architect” in 1913 and 1915. The partnership lasted only until 1914, when Drummond returned to his own practice, working on residential, commercial, and public commissions primarily in River Forest, IL through the 1930s. Drummond died in 1948.
Photographs and clippings representing architectural works in the Chicago area designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and William E. Drummond for Avery and Queene Ferry Coonley comprise this collection. Works represented in the collection are: Avery Coonley House (1906-09), Avery Coonley Gardener’s Cottage (1911) and Coonley Playhouse (1912) by Frank Lloyd Wright; Thorncroft (1911), and the Brookfield Kindergarten (1911), by William E. Drummond; and the Teacher’s Cottage (1913) by Guenzel and Drummond. Included are photographs ca. 1910-1920, many by Henry Fuermann & Sons, Chicago, Illinois. Photographs document the original exteriors of all these buildings, as well as interior views of all but the Teacher’s Cottage. Color snapshots, ca. 1980, depict renovations to the Avery Coonley House Stables exterior, and to the Playhouse’s exterior and interiors. Clippings cover the general history of the Avery Coonley House and Stables, including renovations completed since the 1950s. Wright-designed furnishings from the Coonley estate are featured in 3 catalogs concerning the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. A family history, Four Grandparents, written by grand-daughter Celia Faulkner Crawford in 1995 is also included.
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Access is by appointment only to any serious scholar.
Restrictions on Use
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Queene Ferry Coonley collection, Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin
Processed by: Sarah Cleary, 2007
Other Finding Aids
Unpublished inventory in the Archive.
Detailed Description of the Collection
The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.