Moving to live in Urbana-Champaign I had very little expectations regarding things to see in the area. The reputation of the twin towns as being mostly corn fields is well-deserved, although my wonders around the world have taught me that there’s something to see almost anywhere. But, still, the Allerton Park 30 minutes to the west of Champaign was a very pleasant surprise. A huge estate, beautiful gardens, classical and Asian sculpture art, hiking trails and lakes, Allerton Park has it all.
The official website writes about the gardens and art:
Befitting a splendid Georgian manor house, the Formal Gardens feature extensive plantings and over 100 ornaments and sculptures to discover.
“He created a picture in the garden. Yes, he painted with vegetation instead of oil and canvas.” Robert Allerton was an artist of plants, an artist appreciated by none more than John Gregg Allerton, his adopted son, as revealed in Robert Allerton: The Private Man and The Public Gifts, written by Martha Burgin and Maureen Holtz.
Allerton’s brilliance can be seen in the careful placement of each flower, the deliberate turn of every path, and the guided movement of color throughout his 14 formal gardens. As you stroll through his inspired creation, you are transported from daily life into a place where cultural artifacts enhance Mother Nature’s best. Allerton’s intention of restful inner reflection will fill your mind, replacing discord with the harmony of natural and manmade beauty.
Allerton painted with flowers, sculpted with espaliered apple trees, and composed with quiet footsteps leading from his main house, through his masterpiece of refined landscape and out into the unrestrained exquisiteness of nature.
A bit about the park:
Built as a private residence in 1900, today Allerton Park & Retreat Center is a historical treasure owned by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The Mansion and Park are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and one of the American Institute of Architects’ 150 Great Places in Illinois. The Park was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1970.
The grounds are open to the public and are of particular interest to scientists and naturalists (professional and amateur), hikers, and anyone who enjoys a walk outdoors. With almost 100,000 visitors each year, Allerton Park & Retreat Center is an invaluable cultural and environmental asset of the University of Illinois. It serves to bridge between the public, educational and research resources of the University faculty.
The property comprises 1,500 acres of woodland, riparian and prairie areas, a Georgian-inspired manor house and reflecting pond, several secondary lodging facilities, a 10-acre meadow, formal sculpture gardens, and interpretive and primitive hiking trails. One thousand acres of the property are designated a National Natural Landmark because of the quality of their upland and bottomland floodplain forests.
What’s to see?
Forest hiking streams and trails…
The trees get very colorful during the autumn…
The estate and the park are maintained by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
The Allerton Estate is also worth visiting. I went there for poetry readings on Halloween night and got a tour of the estate.
Highly recommended. If you’re in the area, this is probably one of the nicest things you can do here.