Exploring Allerton

Last Updated on January 20, 2021 by Jody Halsted

Exploring Allerton Park & Retreat Center in Monticello, Illinois. A must for your central Illinois vacation itinerary.

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.

Fu Dog Garden at Allerton Park & Retreat Center in Monticello, Illinois. The expansive formal gardens and woodland trails are free to visit and open daily.
All the Fu Dogs face their mate, except those at the end of the garden. They sit quietly, their gaze on the House of the Golden Buddahs.
Who's a pretty Fu Dog? Fu Dog Garden at Allerton Park & Retreat Center in Monticello, Illinois. The expansive formal gardens and woodland trails are free to visit and open daily.
Who's a pretty Fu Dog?

From the Fu Dog Garden it's a nearly straight, though long, path to the other gardens.

Formal gardens at Allerton Park & Retreat Center, Monticello, Illinois. Exiting the Brick Wall Garden you pass through 4 more gardens before reaching the sculpture of Adam.
A pathway leads you from the Brick Wall Garden through 4 more gardens before reaching the sculpture of Adam. The Pathway continues through 5 additional gardens before ending at the Sunken Garden.

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.

Hidden garden pathways at Allerton Park & Retreat Center, Monticello, Illinois.
The pathway trees were planted to create a perfect hidden walkway. Just be careful that you don't scare someone when you pop out!
Chinese Musician Sculptures at Allerton Park & Retreat Center, Monticello, IL. No two are alike.
These Chinese Musician Sculptures lead you from the Chinese Maze Garden to the Sunken Garden.

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.

The gravestones date from the mid-1800s in the Illinois Pioneer Cemetery at Allerton Park & Retreat Center, Monticello, IL
These stones date from the mid-1800s. They have been reinforced with metal and repaired if cracked. There are two pioneer cemeteries on the Allerton Park Estate- one on either side of the river.
Death of the Last Centaur sculpture sits in a woodland clearing, each end of the path marked with pillars. Allerton Park & Retreat Center, Monticello, IL
The incredibly moving Death of the Last centaur sits in a woodland clearing. Each end is majestically marked with tall pillars, letting you know that something truly special lies ahead.
The 15 foot tall Sun Singer statue lies at the far west end of Allerton Park & Retreat Center in Monticello, IL
The Sun Singer is perfectly framed in this natural circular meadow at the far end of Allerton Park. The 15 foot tall statue is one of the park's most popular sculptures.
The Sun SInger sculpture at Allerton Park & Retreat Center in Monticello, IL. The 15 foot tall statue of Phoebus Apollo, the sun-god of Greek mythology, sings to coax the sun to rise.
The 15 foot tall statue of Phoebus Apollo, the sun-god of Greek mythology, sings to coax the sun to rise.

The Mansion

As you've been exploring Allerton Park you've likely caught at least a glimpse of the mansion.

The Allerton Mansion at Allerton Park & Retreat Center, Monticello, IL
The Allerton 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.

Four rooms lie off the main hallway at Allerton Park & Retreat Center. Three of them are named for the type of wood used in the room: Oak, Pine, and Butternut.
Four rooms lie off the main hallway at Allerton Park & Retreat Center. Three of them are named for the type of wood used in the room. Paintings in the Oak Room (left) and the Butternut Room (center) are enclosed in the fine woodwork.
The Library at Allerton Park & Retreat Center, Monticello, IL
The 4th room is the Library. Once the Music Room, the shelves and second level were added after Robert Allerton's book collection outgrew the Butternut Room. The second level is accessible by a hidden door.

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.

Upstairs in the Allerton Mansion at Allerton Park & Retreat Center. Rooms are spacious and luxurious with terrific views.
This is a room that Robert Allerton expanded to accommodate families. He enjoyed entertaining friends at the estate. The beautiful bench sits on the landing at the top of the stairs.

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.

The House in the Woods, one of the lodging options at Allerton Park & Retreat Center, Monticello, IL
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.

Our many thanks to Matthew Smith at Allerton Park for taking the time to give us a guided tour of the mansion & grounds. Our stay at the House in the Woods was paid for by us. No compensation was provided for this post.

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