Tour the Robert Allerton House

21 Sep 2011 7:08 pm

Join me at Allerton, a 1,500 acre country estate located in Central Illinois on the Sangamon River, as we tour the ground floor of the century-old, 30,000 sq. ft. Georgian-Revival house.

---> The Tour Begins Here <---

Construction of the house began in June, 1899, and finished about a year later, in 1900. It is about 30,000 sq. ft, and the style is Georgian-Revival. Exterior materials used were Dutch bricks (flemish bond) and Indiana limestone. The architect was John Borie, a friend of Allerton's. The general contractor was William Mavor, from Chicago. The total cost was about $50,000 in 1899 dollars. Adjusted for inflation to 2010 dollars, the cost would be about $1,200,000.

This was Mr. Allerton's summer residence. He would spend winters at his home in Chicago.

The white bay window is the breakfast room, the projecting tower is a bedroom at top, and the butternut room on the first floor. The next sets of windows are of the solarium.

Notice that the windows on the left side of the tower are lower. This wing of the house is for servants and is three stories tall. It contained their bedrooms, kitchens, a refrigerator room, butler's pantry, etc.

The Gallery

This is the largest room of the house, and usually the one that one sees first. Its dimensions are just under 100 ft long, about about 20 ft wide. The finished ceiling is 14 ft tall. The paneled, wooden doors are 8 ft tall, to give you a frame of reference. The three windows at the end face East, since the house is oriented with its front facade facing South-West.

It's really dark now because all of the lamps are off. We'll be coming back later when more lights are on, you'll see.

General room layout: butternut room is behind me, to the right. Main stair case is directly to my left (again, out of sight). First two sets of double-doors on the left both lead into library, and the final door way at the back, on left, leads into the oak room. The door across from it leads into the pine room. Finally, the 5 sets of glass-paned doors on the right (the 5th one is to my right, out of sight) lead into the solarium, which is in the front of the house.

Back when Mr. Allerton lived here, from 1900 to 1945, this hall would have been filled with a lot of artwork. In fact, the entire house was filled with tapestries, paintings, sculpture, etc. All of the frames on the walls hold original, century-old architectural drawings of various features of the house.

There is a marble fireplace in the center of the Gallery. Above it hangs a portrait of Mr. Allerton's father, Samuel.

All of the wall paneling, and even the mantel, is pine painted white.

We'll be seeing floor plans later, too.

The Butternut Room

This is the first room that I visited (excepting the main gallery). It was rumored to be Mr. Allerton's favorite room in the house, and I quite agree. Originally it was the library, and you can see (in photos coming soon) that there are still plenty of shelves. It was also used as the dining room, as it is adjacent to the breakfast room, and nearest to the kitchens.

This room is rectangular in overall dimensions. It's about 20-25 ft long and about 12-15 ft wide. The ceiling is lower than in the main hall; it's 12 ft.

The window seat was designed by John Gregg Allerton as a later addition to the butternut room.

The fireplace to the right has a portrait above it of Mr. Allerton when he was 24, attributed to a female friend of his who was a painter.

Grand Staircase

This first landing has 2 windows and a set of doors that go out to a balcony. To the right (out of sight) is a secret door that leads to the balcony in the library. It's disguised to look like a panel of mirrors, though.

Breakfast Room

This is the breakfast room whose bay window you saw outside the house. Now it is a director's office. Note the window seating. This room is quite small, and it is adjacent to where the kitchens were (the house has since been remodeled, and the kitchens were moved to the stable).

According to the plans, there should have been a fireplace in this room. There are now cabinets where it should have been, but curiously enough, the finished floor shows the border for a hearth! This the only evidence of a fireplace. I don't know whether it was cut out at last minute, or whether it was built and removed later.

Floor Plan of Allerton House

In the gallery is a floor plan of Allerton House, showing rooms and relative scale (but not dimensions, alas)

This floor plan does not show the Marble Hall that was built in the early 1900s to connect the stable and the main house.

However, at the bottom, is depicted an addition that never happened. The wing with the New Library, Waiting Room, and Office wasn't ever built. You can also see that there was a plan to turn the Oak Room into an Octagonal room, and to make a loggia. Again, that didn't happen. The Oak Room remains square.

Adding some confusion, many of the room names have changed in the century since this drawing was made. Here are the equivalents:

- Dining Room = Butternut Room
- Library = Pine Room
- Music Room = Library
- Office = Oak Room

The Pine Room

This room is named, probably, because it is paneled in pine. Its dimensions are, as far as I can tell, the same as the butternut room. It has three chandeliers. It was originally the library of the house.

The Library

This room is the tallest in the house, reaching a full two stories. I'd estimate its floor dimensions at 50 ft wide and 25-30 ft deep. The ceiling is probably about 30 ft tall.

Originally it was meant to be the music room, and is identified as such on the floor plans. The balcony and shelving are all later additions to the room as its function changed over the decades.

Below the drab painting is a fireplace, directly opposite the one in the main gallery.

Locked away on the second floor balcony are the surviving books bearing Robert Allerton's signature. When the Allertons moved to Hawaii in the 1940s, they took most of their books with them.

As with the previous plans, it appears that the stone mantel was never built (it doesn't exist today). The paneling also does not exist today; in its place are many bookshelves.

The Solarium

On some plans, this room is labeled as porch, others have it as solarium. It's rather like an enclosed porch. The two doors at the back lead into the butternut room, and there are two behind me that go to the pine room. The main hall is to the right- there are 5 sets of doors leading into it.

The Oak Room

The Oak Room is directly across the hall from the Pine Room, and is the smallest public room on the first floor (the breakfast room is smaller, but I wouldn't count it as a public room). The floor plans have it marked as the Office.

The double doors at the back lead to a terraced patio. The library also has similar doors that lead to the same place (though they are much taller, owing to the enhanced ceiling height).

There exist in the House plans showing a never-completed addition to the house which would have changed the Oak Room into an Octagonal room and added a loggia.

The Marble Hall

The Marble Hall, which was an addition to house made around 1915, to connects the house and the stable. Today it contains Allerton silver pieces, a Japanese kimono, and some oriental screens.

The Stable

The stable includes a greenhouse, which is off the door you see to the back. The stable has three stories, and is built into a hill. It has a lower level, which is down the hill; a main level, that I'm on now, and an upstairs. When motor cars became popular, it was used as a garage. Later, cars were parked on the lower level. Today, the lower level is the kitchen, the main level is the dining room.

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