Inside Allerton: The Essential Guide to Robert Allerton Park is the book’s full title, but the scope of the book is largely limited to the history of the House and gardens. The author presents well-researched descriptions and historical facts along with an abundance of archived photographs and current photography. The writing flows well in meshing historical details about the evolution of the House design with details about Robert’s personal life.
The author devotes, however, only three pages of the book to events taking place after 1946. Considering Robert Allerton Park was only newly created in October, 1946, in the gifting of the estate to the University of Illinois, these three pages present the history of the Park. The author neglects to report in this brief history that the Allertons first made the offer of a future gifting of the estate to the University in 1941. On July 22, 1941, the University Board of Trustees voted to accept the Allerton’s offer of gift at future date. After WWII ended, the Allerton’s returned to the idea and entered legal negociations to craft the Indentures of their gift.
The author attempts to tie this three page historical summary in a concise package, but the archives present a chaotic carousel of appointed Park directors and a perpetually changing reporting and financial structure. It is a difficult history to research for lack of archival material. Due to this omission of the history of Robert Allerton Park, per se, the subtitle of this book “The Essential Guide to Robert Allerton Park” is a misnomer. This is not a guide to The Park. This book is a Guide to the History of the Allerton House which is now the Conference Center.
The author has gathered a well-gleaned bibliography. The footnoting is extensive. The reader may wonder why the author didn’t include some of the details within the text instead of referencing as a footnote. The footnotes sometimes present conflicting information or posit a new conclusion than the text.
The photography of present day Park is quite excellent. The extensive archival photographs are inclusions that have been missing in all other Allerton accounts. Kudos to David Finnigan for writing such a comprehensive, and historically researched book about the Robert Allerton’s Estate ‘The Farms’. This book is recommended to all Allertonia nuts, like this writer! Each of us have different perspectives on the life of Robert Allerton based upon archival evidence – such as it remains. Robert was a private man, but not reclusive. His ledgers, guest books, personal letters, date book, address book, diaries were either taken to Hawaii, destroyed or otherwise disappeared. We can only interpret Robert’s coming of age as the thirty-something socialite and heir to a fortune. Robert Allerton had great impact upon this County through his gift of Allerton Park. We only know about Robert through the words of others – John Gregg, the press, historical details and locally recorded memoirs. David Finnigan, like others, like this writer, assemble the details and present bits of evidence to build Robert’s life around the transitions that took place in his House – most of which, took place before John Gregg’s entrance into Robert’s life. By 1932, perhaps the couple wanted a blank canvas that ‘the Farms’ could no longer offer. When a travel layover in Hawaii in 1937 presented the opportunity to purchase a new horticultural landscape with an inviting climate, the pair embarked on this new start. Robert left his Midwest farmer role behind – his paintings, his history, his House, land, and collections. These were given away, or auctioned or sold. They divested to comparatively minimal encumbrance.
In spite of the above criticisms, this book is a must purchase. Mr. Finnegan has done a superlative job in organizing and presenting a wealth of historical details. Partnered with the historical photo documentation, a visit and tour of the mansion brings a new perspective to this local treasure.
Thank you, David Finnegan, for sharing the wealth of your research, so we can all become better informed and better appreciate our magical and beloved Allerton Park.