Allerton brings new ideas to community

By Winyan Soo Hoo

The late Robert Henry Allerton’s philosophy that “life and art are inseparable” guided his purpose in creating and landscaping his private estate, which is known as the Robert Allerton Park, according to Carol Stoddard, the park’s director of Community Relations and Public Engagements.

Stoddard spoke of the park’s original owner, the purpose of Allerton’s garden designs and the future of the park, in her presentation titled the “The Mystery of Allerton,” over lunch Tuesday at the University YMCA. Allerton donated the property, which includes miles of formal gardens, a manor house, trails, upland and lowland forests, restored prairie and landscaped gardens along the Sangamon River located in nearby Monticello, Ill., to the University in 1946.

Allerton’s father gave him 280 acres of land in Piatt County when he was a boy, as well as money to build a house on the land and other Allerton land holdings in the area, Stoddard said. Allerton named these holdings “The Farms.” By 1914, “The Farms” consisted of more than 12,000 acres.

Stoddard said Allerton Park seeks to follow the University’s mission to provide “teaching, research, recreation and public service,” and follow author William Wordsworth’s words to let “nature be your teacher.”

With these ideas in mind, Stoddard said the park plans to continue to focus on their 20-plus programs, including a herring bird watch, designed for people of all ages, to enjoy and learn more about nature. In addition to the programs, the park holds conferences, summer camps, lectures and summer concert series near the Allerton House. University students and interns are also encouraged to work on the park’s diversified farm, where a number of different vegetables and flowers are grown for the Allerton House and the craft market.

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“I’m glad to see all the new programs and activities for more and more people to enjoy the park,” said William Broom, a resident of Urbana. “Students should grab a Frisbee and go to the park.”

Stoddard said the park is known for its unique beauty and for the design of its gardens. Many of Allerton’s gardens were influenced by his world travels. One maze garden in the park was designed after a symbol Allerton found on his Chinese silk pajamas.

Allerton Park is also known for the health and biodiversity of its plants and animals, Stoddard said. The deer in the area have benefited from the healthy amount of plants in the area, but the population has “grown at an exponential rate.”

“There are long term consequences,” Stoddard said. “Thousands of dollars of our plants are eaten by the deer each year. We are looking at how we can live harmoniously with our natural neighbor.”

Stoddard said the park staff is planning to fence in the garden and allow for hunting of the deer on the south side of the park. People who hunt the deer are required to use bow and arrows and kill one buck with every doe.

“The deer mainly eat native plants to Illinois, and this has allowed non-native (plants) to gain a foothold,” Stoddard said. “It throws the ecosystem out of balance.”

The deer have also gone to cornfields offsite, damaging the crops on private farms.

Stoddard plans for a new peony garden with 70 different varieties of the plant in the spring. The flowers will be planted in blocks of the same color in a full color spectrum.

Jim Andrews, a resident of Champaign, attended the presentation with his wife because of their long ties to and interest in the park. Andrews is the son of J.B. Andrews, the first manager of the farmland after Allerton. Andrews said his father helped convince the Board of Trustees at the University to accept Allerton’s gift. Andrews and his wife are planning a lecture series on agriculture as it pertains to Illinois and Allerton Park in the future.

“Allerton is a beautiful place,” Andrews said. “The park is so different from anything you will find in Champaign. You won’t believe that it’s here.”