Updates are being made to the 120-year-old Allerton Mansion, thanks to donor support. Staff are focusing on improving the guest experience by including more pieces and design choices inspired by Robert Allerton, as well as providing long-term funding for the estate.
Gifts from Deborah and Michael Westjohn (Monticello), Debra and David Rathje (Decatur), and Susan and Steven Zumdahl (Seymour) have funded updates to, respectively, the Butternut Room, Robert Allerton’s room, and the Library. In addition, donations made in memory of Jane Gregg Schowalter have begun initial improvements to her uncle John Gregg’s room, while Friends of Allerton have helped fund third floor guest rooms and the Marble Hallway.
“We have been planning and fundraising for these updates for a couple years, but the lack of Mansion guests during the pandemic really created a great opportunity to get started,” said Retreat Center Manager Jordan Zech. “As we work to become financially self-sufficient, it is critical that we are the best destination we can be. More comfortable and consistent amenities, along with tasteful and thoughtful décor, will hopefully encourage guests to come back for future visits.”
Zech noted that when Robert Allerton donated his estate to the University of Illinois in 1946, he gave away or auctioned off most of his furnishings before moving to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Although a few original pieces remain, the Georgian-style Mansion is filled largely with an assortment of furniture, décor, and rugs that have been pieced together through the years to create a “unique, but modest” experience.
“The Butternut Room has always been my favorite,” said Deborah Westjohn, who grew up visiting Allerton. “But these additions really brought the room to life, and back to the spirit of how it was when Robert lived there. It’s such a welcoming, inviting space.”
Staff credits volunteer designer Anne Carlson, of Champaign, with creating the vision for reviving the Mansion, utilizing historic photos, information about Robert’s travels abroad, and the few original pieces to inspire unique plans for each space. Once that vision was in place, individuals stepped up to donate not only for the improvements, but endowment funds for the long-term care and maintenance of each room.
“It’s a really incredible thing to be a part of – to work with these generous individuals who want to invest in Allerton, to make it better for current and future guests,” said Associate Director of Advancement Bridget Frerichs. “They love this place and want to make a difference, and we were able to provide opportunities for them to have an immediate impact.”
Steven and Susan Zumdahl remembered a visit to the Mansion three years ago, where they enjoyed looking through Robert Allerton’s book collection on the balcony of the 1,215 square foot Library.
“As authors, we especially value books and libraries and we really enjoyed the opportunity to accompany Derek and Bridget to the library gallery to examine Robert Allerton’s collection of books,” said Steven. “It is our great pleasure to support the renovation of that beautiful space in the Mansion. We hope our contribution will help sustain Allerton as a wonderful asset for the people of Central Illinois.”
While the Library and John Gregg’s room are still in progress, improvements to the Butternut Room and Robert’s Room are complete, both featuring historical items that inspired the space. An original Kazak rug set the color scheme for the Butternut room, while Robert Allerton’s original wallpaper was reproduced in his former bedroom.
“Blending reverence to the history and architecture of the Mansion, while using durable materials that suit the commercial use of the spaces is of great importance to provide a renovation that will withstand the test of time,” explained Carlson, who is volunteering her time to lead Park staff through the process. “Reviving spaces that will be the backdrop for many memories and milestones for guests is humbling and a bit daunting, but looking back to Robert’s ever-evolving attitude towards design, allows some freedom to highlight the past while serving the present and future.”
The Mansion is currently open for lodging, with safety protocols in place and special rates for overnight stays, including Robert’s Room. Debra and David Rathje hope the improvements they made possible in that room will add to others’ enjoyment of the place they love so much.
“We love Allerton, and anything we can do to improve it, we are glad to help out,” said David Rathje. “You guys are working so hard to make it a nice place for visitors. We’re glad we are able to help other people share our feelings for it.”
Additional improvements are planned for all Mansion guest rooms and common areas, dependent on funding. For more information or to book an overnight stay, visit allerton.illinois.edu or call 217-333-3287.