Lately my family has sought out Allerton, which is located outside of Monticello, Illinois, as a place to celebrate. Last year my sister and I headed to the flower and sculpture gardens to celebrate her birthday. This year, we took mom to celebrate a belated Mother’s Day.
Allerton is many things. There is a historic Georgian manor house, that I still want to tour, there are gardens, sculptures, a cafe, events and more. We came for the walk, the art, and the beauty.
This beautiful property was established due to Robert Henry Allerton. Born in 1873 in Chicago to wealthy parents who owned extensive farm holdings, he was well educated in both Chicago and New England. Rather than work for his father, Robert decided to follow his love of art. He studied for five years pursuing painting, drawing, and sculpture at Munich’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts and academies in Paris. He didn’t consider himself a success in the art world, and in 1897, he burned his paintings and came home to manage the family’s agricultural holdings.
Allerton’s Artistic Vision
Robert Allerton managed of 12,000 acres of farmland. His estate in Monticello, Illinois was called “The Farms”. Robert Allerton said, “One of the enjoyable things about being a farmer is that much of the work can be done in the summer, and the winter can be devoted to travel.”
Traveling, Robert collected art wherever he went. He then brought it back to “The Farms” and displayed it. Loving to entertain, he had many artists’ visit. Some even created art while at Allerton. During the 1920’s, John Allerton was joined by John Gregg who became his companion. After his job at an architecture firm closed, John Gregg was invited to come to Allerton to help design the Gardens and assist with farm management.
University of Illinois
Together the two forged a vision that still lives on today. Robert officially gifted the house and grounds, plus an additional 3,600 acres of farmland, to the University of Illinois on October 24, 1946. The gift came with the requirement that the property be used for education and research. It was to be a public park and an example of landscape gardening.
Robert adopted Grigg, who was an adult, as his son in 1960. After his death in 1964 John Gregg officially changed his name to Allerton to make sure that the name was carried on as he continued the work John Allerton began. Besides the amazing gift of Allerton, John Allerton donated over 6,000 pieces of art to institutions during his life. His donations go on and on! I had no idea how extensive his generosity was beyond the University before researching. In 1938 they bought 100 acres of beach-front property on the island of Kauai, and “Lawai-Kai”. This is now part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. John continued to visit until his death in 1986.
There are 14 Formal Gardens. They feature over 100 ornaments and sculptures. Robert and John Gregg Allerton designed the gardens in the Beaux arts/Neoclassical style. The gardens are divided by hedges and statues into what they call “rooms”. According to their website, “These dedicated workers plant 12,000 summer annuals, 5,000 bulbs and 500 mums each fall, and 100 trees every spring. They spread over 140 cubic yards of mulch, prune 10,250 linear feet of hedge, pull weeds in over 80,000 square feet of planting beds, and mow 45 acres of turf grass weekly.”
This ensures that no matter when you come, something is usually in bloom! This is a great place for picture taking! There are astounding backgrounds.
Allerton may not have painted pictures on a canvas, but he surely created beauty within nature! Luthy Botanical Gardens in Peoria is another central Illinois garden to enjoy as well! The gardens in St. Louis and Chicago are also astounding!