A walk on the wild, but orderly side
Allerton Park and Retreat Center near Monticello appeals both to the outdoors enthusiast who likes things wild and the gardener who likes nature arranged in a more orderly fashion.
“If they are more interested in beautiful things, there are formal gardens and over 100 garden sculptures,” said Jessica Hampson, marketing and communications manager for the park. “If they are more interested in outdoors pursuits, and in getting some exercise, there are 14 miles of interpretive trails. And the whole park is 1,500 acres.”
Robert Allerton, a passionate art patron and collector, donated the property to the University of Illinois in 1946 as “an educational and research center, as a forest and wild-life and plant-life reserve, as an example of landscape architecture, and as a public park.”
During his lifetime, Allerton donated more than 6,600 pieces to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Some of his passion for art was played out on the landscape, where mazes of manicured hedges, a walkway lined with vines, a reflecting pond and a garden enclosed within a brick wall are open to the public, thanks to Allerton’s generosity.
“And the sunken garden — it’s gorgeous with all the different brush and trees surrounding it,” Hampson said. “It is the most popular location for weddings.”
Another famous attraction is “The Sun Singer,” a 15-foot-tall sculpture of the Greek god Apollo.
“The outdoor setting was built for that sculpture,” she said.
Allerton was named one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois following a competition sponsored by the Illinois Tourism Bureau.
“There are just all kinds of things to do,” Hampson said. “You could come for a couple of hours or spend all day. You could bring a picnic, and we encourage that.”
In addition to the formal gardens, Allerton is home to prairies, meadows and the Sangamon River and its flood plain. It also is home to the Illinois state-endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake — a small snake that feeds on prairie voles.
About 1,000 acres of the park has been designated as a national natural landmark.
And along with the architecture of nature comes the architecture of man.
“There is, of course, the mansion,” said Hampson of the 100-year-old Georgian-style home that stands next to a reflecting pond.
The park’s visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day through the end of November.
The mansion is not open on a daily basis, but visitors can call ahead for tours, provided the building is not being used for conferences or other events.
Chris Young can be reached email@example.com or (217) 788-1528.
Allerton Park and Retreat Center
* WHERE: The park is about 60 miles east of Springfield off Interstate 72. Take exit 164 into Monticello and turn right onto county road 1625 North or Old Illinois 47. Turn left on 625 East and then right on 1550 North or County Farm Road to the entrance.
* WHEN: The park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown every day. Admission is free.
* MORE INFO: www.continuinged.uiuc.edu/allerton.
Donations to help support the park are welcome.