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The Robert Allerton Park is a 1,517-acre (614 ha) park, nature center, and conference center located in the rural Piatt County township of Willow Branch, near Monticello, Illinois on the upper Sangamon River. The park and manor house, The Farms, were laid out and built by industrialist heir, artist, art collector, and garden designer Robert Allerton and his adopted son John Gregg Allerton, who gave the complex to the University of Illinois in 1946. The Allerton Natural Area within the park is a National Natural Landmark. As of 2007, the park was used by approximately 100,000 visitors per year. It has been described as "a vast prairie turned into a personal fantasy land of neoclassical statues, Far Eastern art, and huge European-syle gardens surrounding a Georgian-Revival mansion" .
About Robert Allerton
Robert Allerton (1873–1964) was heir to a Chicago banking and stockyard fortune created by his father, Samuel Allerton (1828–1914), one of the founders of Chicago's Union Stock Yards. Robert Allerton and his adopted son, John Gregg Allerton (1899–1986), transformed their country house, The Farms, into a central Illinois showplace estate, with activity climaxing in the 1920s and early 1930s.
Allerton also pursued ties with the University of Illinois. In 1919 while Allerton lived at "The Farms", he was asked by the University to serve on the Campus Plan Commission. This association continued until the completion of the 1923 Master Plan of the area south of the Auditorium. In 1926, Allerton established the Allerton Scholarships in American architecture. Annually, he invited graduating students in architecture and landscape architecture to "The Farms."
Gift to the University of Illinois
After the Great Depression, World War II, and U.S. federal income taxes made it more difficult to staff and operate stately homes like The Farms, the Allertons moved to Allerton Garden, Kaua'i, Hawaii, in 1946, after deeding their Piatt County properties to the University of Illinois. At the time, taxes on Allerton land accounted for one-fifth of all tax revenue to support public works in the Willow Branch Township. The university, however, disputed its obligation to pay taxes on the estate, citing itself as a non-profit, tax exempt state institution. The Township, not wishing to lose a significant portion of its tax funding, protested. The University was found in 1949 to be in delinquency of unpaid real estate taxes. A later Illinois Supreme Court ruling resolved the matter: the University would make an annual payment in lieu of taxes to Piatt County. The public park and woodland acreage are today tax-exempt; only the income-generating farmland is taxed.
When deeded to the University on October 14, 1946, the 5,500 acre estate was worth approximately $1.3 million. Adjusted for inflation, it would be worth nearly $14 million in 2011 dollars.
The estate was logically divided into three areas. The principal area of 1,500 acres, originally known as the Woodland Property, was renamed the Robert Allerton Park. A smaller area of land located north of the Park area was put to use for the Illinois 4-H Memorial Camp and its related recreational programs. Finally, the third and largest area composing 3,775 acres of land in eight different farms all north of the Sangamon river are farmed by tenants and the income is used to support the rest of the Park.
Allerton was a philanthropist for most of his life. Today, both Robert Allerton Park and Allerton Garden are open to the public. Allerton also made significant gifts and bequests to the Honolulu Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Allerton Park's gardens consist of a 1/4-mile-long (0.4 km) formal garden, and a 11⁄4-mile-long (2 km) sculpture walk extending westward from the end of the formal garden. The gardens incorporate many pieces of sculpture and ornaments.
Fu Dog Garden
This garden, featuring an array of 22 blue porcelain Fu Dog statues in front of white fir trees, was originally commissioned in 1932 to display Allerton's collection of the ceramic statues. The focal point of the garden is these 22 statues mounted on concrete pedestals. Standing behind the pedestals are opposing rows of fir trees that form the garden's outer border. To allow enough sunlight to reach the garden, the surrounding woods were cut back approximately 100 feet. North of this garden stands the House of the Golden Buddhas, a folly which permits an aerial view of the garden.
Located behind the stable, the herb garden is characterized by its many green herbs and several fu dog statues.
The oldest garden on the Allerton Estate, the Walled Garden was constructed in 1902 and is characterized by its tall, red-brick walls. It features at its center the Girl with a Scarf sculpture.
Owing to the decay of the brickwork, the garden was restored in the summer of 2010. Large parts of the walls were entirely demolished and rebuilt. New walkways, including an ADA wheelchair ramp, were installed, along with new plants, flowers, and other landscape elements.
Triangle Parterre Garden
This garden is defined by its towering evergreen trees and flowers arranged in diamond and triangle parterre patterns. It connects to the Peony and Hidden Gardens at its end.
This garden was designed to showcase nearly 70 varieties of Peonies. The garden is enclosed on one side with a concrete wall. At one point, the wall had a cantilevered walkway permitting visitors an aerial view of the garden. Due to age and deterioration of the wall, the walkway was removed by the 1980s.
Chinese Maze Garden
The Chinese Maze Garden features bushes trimmed in an oriental pattern, suggesting a maze. Two large fish statues sit in the center at either end of the maze. Two towers once permitted garden visitors an aerial view of the Maze. Unfortunately, the towers are no longer standing today.
Located adjacent to the meadow, the hidden garden is characterized by its annuals and a satyr statue at one end.
The sunken garden features a large, open grassy area sunken below the usual ground level, surrounded by walls and with four towering gateways. Atop the gateways are golden Guardian Fish statues, both gateways and fish were added in 1925.
House of the Golden Buddhas
Characterized by its golden Buddha statues, this structure is a two-story folly, the upper floor being an observation deck for the Fu Dog Garden. This structure is sometimes referred to as the "Fu Dog Tower." In summer 2008, extensive repairs were made to the tower, including restoration of the roof, and removal of the French doors, which were not original.
Avenue of the Chinese Musicians
Connecting the Maze Garden to the Sunken Garden, the Avenue of Chinese Musicians features a dozen statues representing various flute, drum, and stringed-instrument players. In 1912, this space was originally just a tree-lined avenue. In 1977, the statues were moved from another garden to this present area.
The sculpture walk concludes with The Sun Singer, an Art Moderne bronze sculpted by Carl Milles in 1929, one of more than 100 sculptures in the gardens on the grounds. The Sun Singer underwent a $39,000 restoration in June–July 2007 to remove vandal graffiti and restore the patina of the 16 feet (5 m), 2,300 lb (1,000 kg) sculpture.
Death of the Last Centaur
The pond was designed to simulate the River Thames' reflection of Ham House, one of the models for Allerton House. The pond is fed by a natural ground spring. A retaining wall and spillway allows excess water to run off into the Sangamon River.
Robert Allerton Park contains three residences as well as a number of utility structures such as barns and greenhouses.
Allerton House (The Farms)
The section of the park north of the winding Sangamon River includes Allerton's 40-room (30,000 sq. ft.) stately home, The Farms.
Construction of the house began on June 13, 1899, and finished about a year later, in 1900, at a cost of approximately $50,000. Adjusted for inflation, his house would have cost approximately $1.3 million in 2011 dollars. By fall of 1900, though the interiors were not completely finished, Robert Allerton moved into his new house. Construction of the supporting structures: the stables, greenhouse, Gate House, and Walled Garden, followed afterward in the next two years.
The style is Georgian-Revival, influenced by the work done at the office of McKim, Mead, and White. The architect, John Borie, was likely influenced more by 17th century English country houses, such as Ham House. Borie and Allerton together studied many examples of English houses and gardens before deciding on the architecture and design of Allerton House and the surrounding gardens. Like many English country homes, the main entrance is on the side of the house instead of the front, in order to offer more privacy to those entering and exiting the house.
The exterior materials used for the house were Dutch bricks (Flemish bond) and Indiana limestone. The general contractor was from Chicago, William Mavor.
The House has five principal state rooms, all located on the ground floor: the Gallery, the Library, the Butternut Room, the Pine Room, and the Oak room. The purpose and names of some of these rooms have changed in the century since the house was built. Excepting the Gallery, all of these rooms have 10 ft ceilings. All of the state rooms feature a fireplace, at least three windows, and a herringbone patterned hardwood floor.
- The Gallery
The Gallery spans the entire length of the main house (excepting the servants' wing) and is approximately 90 feet long with a 14 ft ceiling height. It features a large marble fireplace, painted white pine paneling, and dentil crown molding. At the west end of the Gallery is the grand staircase that leads to the second story. Extending from the Gallery is the servants' wing, solarium, and the rest of the state rooms. Above the fireplace hangs a picture of Samuel Allerton, Robert's father.
Although all of the fine artwork that once lived in the Gallery is long-gone, the walls are today decorated with original, century-old architectural drawings of the house.
- The Library
Originally called the Music Room on the architect's drawings, the Library is two stories tall and features a parquet patterned floor. Three large, floor to ceiling windows provide a view and entry to the back terrace. Later remodeling added a second-story balcony and bookshelves on the interior wall to replace most of the wall paneling.
The second floor balcony is always kept locked because it contains many rare, first edition books, as well as books containing Mr. Allerton's signature. When the Allertons moved to Hawaii in the 1940s, they took most of their books with them.
Hanging in the library are plans for a stone mantel that was never built (it doesn't exist today). The paneling shown in those plans also does not exist today; in its place are many bookshelves.
- The Butternut Room
Known to be Robert Allerton's favorite room of the house, the Butternut Room was originally designated as the Dining Room. The room features butternut wall paneling. Above the fireplace hangs a portrait of Robert Allerton when he was 24, painted by his friend, Ellen Emmet Rand.
Window benches were later designed for the room by John Gregg Allerton, and added in the 1930s.
- The Pine Room
This room was originally labeled as the Library for the house. It is today named after its pine wall paneling.
- The Oak Room
The smallest state room, the Oak Room is located toward the back of the house, adjacent to the Library. It is so named for its oak wall paneling. A pair of French doors lead out to the back terrace. This room was marked as the Office on the original floor plans.
Plans hanging in the Gallery show a proposed, but never constructed, addition to the house that would have turned the Oak Room into an Octagonal Room and added a loggia.
Other rooms in the house include the breakfast room and upstairs bedrooms. The attached servants' wing held the pantry, kitchens, laundry, woodshed, and a refrigerated room.
Originally built for horses, the stable was converted for use as an automobile garage when motor cars came to replace horse-drawn carriages. Originally disconnected from the main house, the Marble Hall was constructed in 1910, connecting the house and stable. Today the stable is used as kitchens and large dining area for conference guests.
House in the Woods
Located south-east of the formal gardens, this house has a gray stucco exterior and some Georgian/Neo-Classical architectural elements. This house was constructed in 1915 not of wood, the most common building material, but instead of hollow tile and gray stucco. This was done to show that houses could be built of different materials without incurring additional expense. The house is located amongst a grove of evergreens, near the lake which forms the central axis of the 4-H Memorial camp.
Architect John Borie designed this brick house and it was built in 1902 as the residence of the head gardener. Today it stands at what originally was the end of the public road leading to Allerton's private grounds. After an exchange of lands, this road became no longer a public thoroughfare. Rooms in the Gate House are used to accommodate overnight visitors to the Park.
Forests and Meadows
The Allerton estate still encompasses hundreds of acres of forests and meadows which are still used today by 4H members, hunters, and hikers.
Southern Open space preserve
The section of the park south of the Sangamon River was left almost entirely natural open space preserve during the Allerton's era. It now contains a network of nature trails sloping down from parking areas toward the Sangamon River. Several of the trails have signs describing the floodplain river ecology of central Illinois. The southern section also contains a 55 acres (22 ha) restored prairie, one of the oldest prairie restorations in Illinois, begun in 1955 and now approaching maturity. The southern section of the park and adjacent Sangamon River bottomland, a parcel of 1,000 acres (400 ha), was designated as the Allerton Natural Area, a U.S. National Natural Landmark, in 1971.
- The question of tax exemption for the Allerton gift
- Fliege, Stu (2002). Tales and trail of Illinois. University of Illinois Press.
- University of Illinois: Virtual Campus Tour
- Danforth, Par and the University of Illinois (1951). Robert Allerton Park. University of Illinois Press. Urbana-Champaign, IL.
- Koeper, Frederick. Illinois Architecture. The University of Chicago Press, 1968.
- https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/ldr/www/ Description of Allerton Park by Leslie Rankin
- Restorations and Closures at Allerton Park
- Comments on Allerton Park
- http://www.continuinged.uiuc.edu/oce-sites/allerton/upload/AllertonSummer08Newsletter_4-17-08.pdf Nature of Allerton Newsletter, Vol.6, No.1 Summer 2008
- "Carl Milles". The New York Times. March 13, 1988.
- The News-Gazette (Champaign, Illinois). Sun Singer sculpture removed for restoration. June 16, 2007.
- Herald & Review (Decatur, Illinois). Allerton Park's Sun Singer statue returns to pedestal following restoration July 28, 2007.
- Tour the Robert Allerton House
- Conferences at Allerton
- Weddings at Allerton
- Allerton, John Gregg - Interview and Memoir
- 62 Washington Square South, New York, New York
- 4-H Memorial Camp
- Robert Allerton Park - official UIUC Allerton web site with events and information
- Pictures From Allerton Park - pictures of the Allerton gardens
- Pictures from Inside the Robert Allerton House - pictures of the Allerton house interiors
- Map of Allerton Park - shows locations of all major gardens, features, and buildings