Last Updated on January 20, 2021 by Jody Halsted
I used to love watching America’s Castles on A&E. The grandeur, the extravagance, the undisguised abundance of wealth that the late 19th and early 20th century ‘robber barons’ had to work with was simply unimaginable.
One of these ‘robber barons’ in Chicago, a man by the name of Samuel Allerton, made his money by purchasing pork cheaply in the Midwest and selling it for a profit to the Union Army. While growing his agricultural and land holdings, Samuel Allerton became involved in finance, becoming a founder of the First National Bank of Chicago.
His son Robert, a self-described ‘failed artist’, was given stewardship of a land holding in central Illinois thereafter known as ‘The Farms’. It is here, on these lands and in the design of the mansion, that Robert’s artistic abilities can be seen – though he may not have been an artist his aesthetic eye provides a beautiful setting.
Exploring Allerton Park and Retreat Center
In 1946 Robert Allerton gifted ‘The Farms’ to the University of Illinois. Today visitors can wander the parklands free of charge and enjoy the beautiful formal gardens, woodland trails, and incredible sculptures that encompass Allerton Park & Retreat Center.
In the Gardens
A dozen formal gardens lie within walking distance of the public parking area. Our favorite is the Fu Dog Garden near the entrance to the grounds. Just past the House of the Golden Buddah, eleven pair of Fu Dogs sit facing their mate across a carpet of grass.
From the Fu Dog Garden it’s a nearly straight, though long, path to the other gardens.
The Visitor’s Center, at the right of the photo above, sits at the edge of the Walled Garden- it’s definitely worth your time to stop and learn about the estate.
In the Parklands
You’ll want to be wearing good walking shoes if you plan to explore the expansive parklands surrounding the estate. And I highly recommend you do. Two incredible sculptures and two pioneer cemeteries lie along 7 marked hiking trails.
As you’ve been exploring Allerton Park you’ve likely caught at least a glimpse of the mansion.
Though large and opulent, it is inviting and unpretentious. The interior, though grand, had a very Midwestern farmhouse feel to it.
The mansion is available for self-tours if it is not hosting an private event. Approaching from the car park you venture up the hill behind the house and enter through the main door on the side of the building. If an event is taking place a sign on the door will be posted.
Visitors can explore the main level of Allerton Mansion which includes the rooms above, as well as a large 4 seasons room overlooking the reflecting pond and the beautiful room that once housed the greenhouse. To venture upstairs, however, you will likely need to be staying at the retreat center.
Stay at Allerton Park & Retreat Center
Though you won’t find Allerton Park on any hotel websites, it is possible to stay at this property even if you’re not part of a retreat. Besides the mansion, three other lodgings are available on property.
During our recent visit we stayed at the House in the Woods. Though not as elegant as the rooms in the mansion, our room was charming and comfortable. Unless you are part of a retreat meals are not provided at Allerton, but a small refrigerator and microwave are available to guests in the House in the Woods.
Our room had 2 queen beds, a large dresser, a desk, and an ensuite bath. It was a quiet, restful place to spend 2 nights.
To inquire about room availability at Allerton Park call 217-333-3287
Whether you visit Allerton Park for a few hours or a few days you should definitely put this Midwest treasure on your central Illinois itinerary.