The Visitor Center at Allerton Park and Retreat Center is being renovated, thanks to support from the McCraw family. Originally Robert Allerton’s garden shed, the building located across from the Greenhouse Café was renovated to office space in 2005, and will once again be updated to serve as the Visitor Center, located at 515 Old Timber Road, Monticello.
The space provides just under 1,000 square feet, which will be dedicated to informative and interactive elements to enhance visitors’ discovery of all things Allerton. Funding for the renovation, along with an endowment to provide salary support for a Visitor Center Attendant, was donated by Tom and Jessica McCraw of Fort Worth, TX, and their family members. Although Tom and his brothers, Jim, David, and John, currently live in various other states, the family has been interested in and visiting Allerton ever since growing up in Monticello.
“All of us were involved in the Boy Scouts and camped at Allerton, and we remember hiking the Sun Singer and Fu Dog trails, 20-mile hikes that started and ended in Allerton,” Tom said. “Even though we are pretty scattered at this point, we still love to visit the Park when we’re back in Central Illinois.
Park officials are currently working to secure a vendor to provide the design and manufacturing of material for the updated Center, which has an expected opening of Fall 2022. Staff notes that although visitors have enjoyed the Greenhouse Café, which opened in the previous Visitor Center in 2017, the shared space was not ideal.
“The McCraw Family Visitor Center will provide a proper welcome to the Park, which has been lacking for years,” noted Allerton Director Derek Peterson. “Our goal is to add enough information to provide knowledge, but also inspire ongoing exploration and discovery of the grounds. Part of the allure of Allerton is the question – ‘what’s around that corner?’ We want to answer those questions, but also point out more corners to explore.”
In addition to their own memories exploring the Park, the McCraw family’s connection to Allerton goes beyond camping and hiking. Their father, Erwin Arkell McCraw, was the farm advisor at the National Bank of Monticello for many years, where he helped manage the Allerton farms. While this historic connection was important in the family’s decision to support the Park, Tom notes that recent improvements and a sustainable vision for the future were equally important.
“Derek and his crew have done a wonderful job creating beautiful gardens, displaying the sculptures, and doing much needed restoration,” McCraw said. “One thing that we thought was missing was a dedicated Visitors’ Center to answer questions and give information to all of the visitors. We wanted to help remedy that. We’re honored that we can help make Allerton even better.”
The McCraw’s gift will go towards Allerton’s ongoing “All In for Allerton” $8 million dollar fundraising initiative, in conjunction with the University of Illinois’ “With Illinois” campaign, which ends June 30, 2022.
Additional improvements are planned for the remaining historic buildings across the street from the new Visitor Center. For more information or to lend your support, contact Bridget at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 217-333-3287.
While the facility is under renovation, guests can visit the Virtual Visitor Center here.