Last Updated on February 9, 2022 by Jody Halsted
This month on the podcast we are preparing for the most colorful time of the year – and the places to visit to make the most of prime ‘leaf peeping'.
Today we are traveling to central Illinois where elegant gardens and extensive woodlands invite you to discover the treasures within before you settle into a very grand accommodation.
Bridget Rose Frerichs is the Associate Director of Advancement at Allerton Park & Retreat Center in Monticello, Illinois.
History of Allerton Park
Robert Allerton was born in 1873 into a life of privilege, forged by his father Samuel. They lived in Chicago on Prairie Avenue and rubbed elbows with the Marshall Fields family among other rich and successful families. When Robert was born, his dad, who owned land throughout the midwest, put a plot of land in Platt County, Illinois, in Robert's name.
Robert went to boarding school and then studied art in Europe, as was common with children from wealthy families at the time. When he returned from Europe, he settled in Platt County. Since it was mostly farmland, he managed the farms and began to build his country estate, modeled after the 17th century Ham House in Surrey, England.
After the house was built, Allerton would work on expanding his gardens, beginning with a vegetable garden and growing it from there. When he traveled, he would bring home sculptures for the garden. Sometimes he would have a space in mind for it and other times he would create a garden space around it. He also had artists commission sculptures to add to the gardens. In time, he created a magnificent estate spanning 1500 acres and containing 14 Formal Gardens. In 1946 Allerton donated the estate to the University of Illinois, which still uses it for research and study, and it is also open to the public.
Obviously the gardens are spectacular in spring and summer, but fall is incredibly special at Allerton. “We have 14 miles of hiking trails, so the fall colors are just magnificent,” says Frerichs. “And a lot of people will describe Allerton as peaceful, magical. The fact that it's here in the middle of the prairie, or what was the prairie, now in the middle of cornfields in the middle of central Illinois, this kind of English-type estate, is really an experience that a lot of us don't get in central Illinois.”
Explore the 14 Formal Gardens that include artistically designed plantings and over 100 ornaments and sculptures to discover. Join one of the scheduled Friday morning bird hikes from 9-11 a.m. led by managers of the natural areas of the estate.
Get a bite to eat at the Greenhouse Cafe, which offers sandwiches, homemade baked goods, unique salads, classic refreshments and more. It is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
Normally they would have concerts and other events scheduled, but with COVID-19, things are looking a bit different. Keep an eye on the website at allerton.illinois.edu for updates on events as restrictions loosen.
The address is 515 Old Timber Road, Monicello, Illinois. The hours are 8 a.m.-Sunset daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free.
Accommodations at Allerton
Guests can choose from four different accommodation options for an overnight stay at Allerton.
- The Mansion — Features 17 guest rooms with antique furnishings, five area common spaces and a basement rec room.
- The House in the Woods — Built in 1917 to house Allertons' gardening staff, it is tucked away in an alcove on the property and features 8 guest rooms.
- The Gate House — Formerly the Head Gardener's residence, the Gate House has 6 guest rooms, featuring a triple room perfect for families.
- The Evergreen Lodge — Built by the University of Illinois in the late 1960s, it offers 10 rustic guest rooms.
To book a room, call 217-333-3287. Although weddings book rooms far in advance, you may be able to find a room with a few weeks' or a month's notice.
Other Things to Do Near Allerton Park
Visit Monticello, less than a 10 minute drive from Allerton, and find much to do and see. Tour their downtown historic square and check out these highlights:
- Take a ride on a vintage train at the Monticello Railway Museum.
- Ooh and aah over the glassblowing creations at Prairie Fire Glass.
- Hike at Lodge Park.
- Let the kids run and play at the area parks.
- Eat at the Brown Bag Deli or one of the other area restaurants.