About Robert Allerton
The only son of banker Samuel Allerton, Robert Allerton was born in 1873 in Chicago. Robert originally aspired to be an artist, but after several years spent studying and painting in Europe, returned to the U.S. to manage the family’s agricultural holdings. Robert never ceased to study and acquire art and became an honorary president and trustee of the Art Institute (the main building there bears his name). During his lifetime, Allerton donated over 6,600 pieces to the museum, making him one of the most dedicated patron-benefactors in its history. Of the original sculptures and artifacts acquired during his travels and donated to the Art Institute of Chicago, prototypes and replicas of many of his favorites found their way to the gardens at The Farms. There Robert and John spent 40 years creating gardens to highlight Robert’s growing collection of sculpture.
Once during a stopover in the Hawaiian Islands, the inveterate travelers Robert and John purchased a beachfront tract of land on the island of Kauai. In the ensuing years, Lawaii-Kai, as the new estate was named, received worldwide attention. In 1964, the Kauai property, through an Act of Congress and a substantial endowment from Mr. Allerton, was established as the National Tropical Botanic Garden (NTBG). Today, the Allerton Garden (Lawaii-Kai) and the NTBG are a showplace and major research center for rare tropical plants.
In 1946, Robert Allerton moved to Kauai and initiated the first major gift ever given to the University of Illinois. He gave The Farms to the University for use as “an educational and research center, as a forest and wildlife and plantlife reserve, as an example of landscape architecture, and as a public park.” He also committed the income from 3,600 acres of farmland for the Park’s care. Concurrently, 250 additional acres of land within the estate’s boundaries were given to establish the Illinois 4-H Memorial Camp.
Allerton’s legacy as an artist-naturalist in Illinois and Hawaii are unrivaled. His gift to the University of Illinois remains one of the largest ever. Today Allerton Park & Retreat Center is a treasure to anyone who discovers and experiences it.